Directory of government spokespersons now excludes mobile phone numbers
Journalists trying to interview government ministers and hold them to account will now face an additional hurdle in carrying out their work, as the mobile numbers of government communications coordinators have been omitted from the contact details listed. on the directory presented on the government’s website for this new legislature.
Journalists in Malta are used to not having a ministry spokesperson (who mediate between ministers and the press) to answer questions over the phone – however, a mobile contact is usually useful to follow up on questions sent to ministers by e-mail. However, the lack of available phone numbers can create an additional hurdle for media trying to get questions answered, especially in an emergency.
A quick scan of The Shift shows that until last year the mobile numbers of ministry spokespersons were still available online. However, since the new legislature in March, contact with spokespersons has been limited to email addresses. The Prime Minister is already known to avoid questions from the press, and it seems that an additional layer of inaccessibility that extends to all ministries has now been put in place.
Led by Edward Montebello, who served as chief information officer at Labor TV until March, all government ministers and parliamentary secretaries have recruited their own communications coordinators on a ‘person of trust’ basis. .
The Shift has sent questions to the Prime Minister’s Office asking why mobile phone numbers have been removed from coordinators’ email addresses. No response has been received at the time of writing.
This is just the latest development in the struggle Maltese journalists face to access information.
In February, The Shift was thrown into a legal battle after some 40 public bodies, including ministries and government entities, refused The Shift’s requests for information in the public interest and appealed. of the Data Protection Commissioner’s order to disclose the information. International press freedom groups said it was “an iconic challenge” that the Maltese media face when accessing public information. Earlier in June, The Shift won the first four FOI calls.
In a report by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee in 2020, Maltese journalists had previously highlighted the difficulty they faced when trying to obtain official comment, claiming that they could “difficult access” to the government.
Recommendations from the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also included the need to create an enabling environment for independent journalism.