€24,277raised of €20,000.00 goal goal
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In its latest attempt to cripple The Shift, the government is now threatening our newsroom's existence.
While the government is mounting 40 cases in court, all paid by taxpayer money, the cost for us to fight back amounts to €40,000 - that’s half our operational budget for a year.
Court fees alone cost €16,000 - that’s just the cost for us to file a response to each challenge. Then there are lawyers’ fees, research and human resources needed to see that through while keeping our investigative stories running.
These are challenges to Freedom of Information requests we filed in your interest, and which we won a year ago. The Data Protection Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal have ruled in our favour.Now, the government is taking it to court, spending tens of thousands to block information at the last hurdle available while burdening a small newsroom with expenses even mainstream media can’t afford.
This is nothing more than an attempt to shut us down. While Prime Minister Robert Abela talks about his defence of the free press by distributing taxpayer money to compliant media, he has launched a war that threatens the survival of a newsroom that holds the government to account.
The government has unlimited resources to fight this battle - your tax money - making use of some 40+ lawyers, including Charlon Gouder in ‘a position of trust’, and Joe Gerada of Acapulco fame, who said our questions amounted to harassment of public officials and filed a request for the court to ban The Shift. Really.
The government is determined not to provide us with the information that the Data Protection Commissioner and Tribunal Chair Anna Mallia have said should be published.
International press freedom organisations including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI) are standing shoulder to shoulder with us in this freedom of information battle.
More and more readers are telling us how vital The Shift is in their lives, praising our investigative journalism done without fear or favour. Whether this battle will spell the end of The Shift is now up to you.
While the government uses the state's resources to block information, The Shift is an independent newsroom largely funded through readers’ donations. You can see our financial statement here.
The ongoing attack intensifies
Last January, we reached out to you to see through the 40 appeals by government entities at the Tribunal stage. So far, we have won 12 of them, thanks to your support in our last crowdfunding appeal. But while we continue to fight at that level, each entity losing the Tribunal appeal is now taking each case to court in a new appeal.
This battle has been ongoing since December 2020, when The Shift filed a set of Freedom of Information requests requesting a list of contracts and/or payments, including direct orders entered into between different government entities as well as ministries with Saviour Balzan or any of his companies since 2013.
The request is focused on the use of public funds and the public interest need for transparency in the operations of the independent media with the government. Contracts have already been revealed that show Saviour Balzan, while acting as editor and columnist at his newspapers and presenting several publicly-funded TV programmes on PBS, was advising ministers on how to deal with the media on controversial projects and scandals.
More than a year ago, the Commissioner ruled in our favour, saying the authorities that had denied the information to The Shift saying there was “no documentation” did in fact possess the necessary information and “there is no legal impediment which could hinder the disclosure”.
Despite The Shift winning these cases at the Appeals Tribunal that deals with challenges by the government to Freedom of Information requests, one by one, each government entity is yet again defying the ruling and filing another appeal in court challenging the decisions.
We are winning, and that’s why the government is using taxpayer money to hide its relations with Saviour Balzan and its control of information. What are they hiding, exactly?
We can’t know before we win.
Prime Minister Robert
Abela has been boasting about protecting the free press by planning to enact
SLAPP legislation, even as his government machine mounts one against The Shift
clearly intended to cripple the organisation.
We have the stamina to continue the fight and we believe that we are in a position to win these cases and, importantly, send a message to the government that the recommendations of the public inquiry on journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination, published a year ago, must be implemented.
Understanding the €20,000 we need
The €20,000 we're seeking to crowdfund will cover court costs to file a response to each appeal (each one costing between €300-€400 in just court fees) as well as take into account costs related to legal fees and human resources.
It costs between €300-€400 just to file a response to each case – that’s €16,000 for 40 cases.
As government watchdogs, the media has an obligation to report such information. As Data Commissioner Ian Deguara rightfully pointed out in defence of his decision, the FOI act is “designed to ensure the greatest possible transparency and promote accountability in public authorities, by enabling to the extent possible, the exercise of the right of access to documents held by the public authorities”.
The fact that the entities are challenging the ruling has implications on press freedom. The appeals were registered as a “violation” by European press freedom watchdog Mapping Media Freedom.
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