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This post has been updated with a brief note which reflects the fact that The Malta Independent sent in responses to the questions I sent them last week. You can read their response here.

This column is going to be longer than usual, but you’re probably going to have most of the weekend to read it as I will be away for a while. I would appreciate it if you took the time to read it in its entirety given that it is about a subject that has caused me much concern over the last few weeks. I would like to explicitly outline my thoughts about it in the most polished, dispassionate manner possible, so bear with me.

It is a subject which concerns me greatly not only because I’ve experienced first-hand just how convoluted the media environment in this country is. It is not just because I’ve personally had to make huge sacrifices to break out of the mold and create something that is free of the ensnarement of vested commercial interests.

It is a subject that concerns me most of all because the existence of an association of media owners that blends together the interests of the biggest newspapers in the country with those of the country’s biggest propaganda outlets is a threat to press freedom and therefore, my own ability to freely and effectively report on what’s happening in my country. Naturally, that doesn’t just affect me – it affects everyone else who tries to do the same kind of work I do, too.

By extension, it affects all of you who are reading these words, because if we are now in a position where we can’t trust the judgement of the editors of the biggest media outlets in the country, then our problems are even greater than we thought they were.

I sent identical sets of questions to the chief editors of the Times of Malta, MaltaToday, and The Malta Independent. Times of Malta’s editor-in-chief, Herman Grech, sent in his responses first. MaltaToday’s executive editor, Kurt Sansone, sent in his responses shortly after.

The Malta Independent’s editor, Stephen Calleja, had not sent any kind of acknowledgement before this column was published yesterday, in spite of multiple daily reminders that were sent to that effect. The response was sent a day after publication, and it can be read here. It is virtually identical in form and content to the other responses that were sent beforehand, and does not in anyway impact this website’s assessment of the situation. On the contrary, given that the response was identical, it makes the points raised below all the more important.

While I will use the rest of this column to flesh out this website’s stance on their responses further below, I do want to emphasise one thing which I want these editors to know about.

For a solid six hours at least, your responses elicited enough interest to saturate this website with nearly five times its usual baseline level of traffic on a standard day. Judging from the responses I saw, the messages I got, and the comments made online, it is quite evident that nobody is buying your poorly explained narrative.

That disbelief is the very same reason why so much traffic came this way: people were incredulous at the aloofness of your responses and the total lack of effort to be transparent about most of the questions I asked.

Know that I am not doing this to undermine your position. On the contrary, I wish to strengthen it. You were given an opportunity to take a stand and clarify any and all misconceptions that may have arisen. Instead of doing so, you refused to provide direct answers and sought only to distance yourselves using an almost identical narrative which does not hold any water on either front. You are expected to do better because the amount of responsibility and influence you wield is enormous and your readers expect you to act accordingly.

The fact that neither newsroom is in a position to have any kind of oversight over the decisions made by the companies that fund their journalism is of concern, not something to be applauded or held up as a token of reassurance that all is fine and dandy. I should not be the one who is relaying your answers to the public. You should be in a position to calmly and rationally explain the decisions which were made while clearly stating your own position on the matter.

Distancing yourselves from the situation only serves to arouse further suspicion that this association was formed without any regard for how it would impact the credibility of your product.

What follows is a more detailed analysis of these answers and the inferences that can be drawn from them in light of the dearth of actual answers being provided.

To be clear, I refuse to engage in any speculation that the answers below are not reflective of what unfolded behind the scenes because I do not have direct visibility over what unfolded behind the scenes. I rest on the assumption that these responses are truthful not because I do not believe that it is possible they aren’t, but because I do not have evidence to say otherwise.

If there is anyone within the structures of these companies who knows otherwise and can convincingly claim anything other than what is being said, it is their responsibility to come forward and inform the public of what is going on. Should you be such a person, reach out and we’ll talk.


When asked whether the editorial team as well as the journalists who form part of Times of Malta’s newsroom were consulted about Allied Newspapers Ltd’s choice to join the Association of Media Owners, editor-in-chief Herman Grech stated that “there was no consultation”.

MaltaToday’s executive editor Kurt Sansone provided an identical answer.

There are two reasonable inferences that can be drawn from these answers.

Taking them at face value and assuming they are true implies that:

a) the editors of two of the country’s most widely read newspapers do not see a problem with the fact that the owners of the company that finances their newsroom’s journalism set up an association of media owners that works together with political propaganda outlets without informing them (because if they did, we’d have gotten a statement that says ‘we confronted management about this decision because we felt we should have been consulted about it’),

b) the same editors do not have an issue with the way the companies that bankroll them are providing a net advantage in favour of the government itself since two of the ruling party’s key media outlets are legitimised by the presence of ‘independent’ newsrooms (because if they did, we would have gotten a statement which points that out unequivocally), and

c) the same editors are failing to understand the impact this decision has had on public perception and trust towards the independent media since there is little comfort to be taken in knowing that both of their newsrooms deny any and all involvement in the commercial affairs that sustain their journalism.

The fact is that there is an intrinsic, direct link between the newsroom and its commercial interests, because one does not exist without the other and there is no reason for either branch of the operation to exist without the other’s driving force and influence.

Just because Herman Grech and Kurt Sansone say that their newsrooms do not and will not have any direct association with political party propaganda outlets does not mean that there isn’t a direct association.

How else can one explain the clear link between the newsroom, the company that owns it, and that same company’s involvement in an association that hosts key media outlets which are directly tied with the government and the opposition? Since this association was announced, there was no other logical conclusion other than describing it as a direct association between all parties involved.

Another disturbing point of inference is drawn from the aloof responses given towards a very simple question about who was appointed as each company’s representative on the association and how they were appointed.

To date, the association has not set up a website, has failed to present the names and positions of the individuals who form part of its executive branch, and has not disclosed how it will go about lobbying for funding from a government that is known to regularly abuse public funding for its own benefit.

Again, if we assume that it is true that editorial has no say or role in the association, then the very least editorial could do is point towards the relevant person to speak to instead of making things more difficult by asking the enquiring party to formally go through the official channels of the company.

Both companies have a vested interest in clarifying their position on the direct association they have established with media companies owned by political parties. I am going out of my way to provide you with ample opportunity to explain yourselves and yet you refuse to do so.

I am not going to forward questions to management. Management could have been copied in to send its responses at any point over the past week.

The argument that the management of each respective company operates entirely separately from the editorial branch of each company does not answer any of these questions directly and repeats the logical fallacy of ‘the left arm does not know what the right arm is doing’ without acknowledging that there is a torso wedged firmly between them.

In addition, the idea that each newsroom is free to scrutinise the operations of the new association is not exactly reassuring when both newsrooms have –

a) claimed ignorance about the association’s formation,

b) failed to explicitly outline what each editor thinks about the association (because if you are free to scrutinise, why can’t you answer a very basic question by providing your professional view on the subject?),

c) failed to as much as name the company’s representative or redirect questions towards them, and

d) claimed they have no idea why a media company must have seven full-time journalists and at least three media workers to join the association or otherwise suggested that questions be redirected to management.

The responses are simply unsatisfactory and do not in any way clarify each newsroom’s stance on the association, which was the whole theme behind every question that was sent in on this matter.

On the contrary, they are responses which just muddy the waters even more and fail to take into account that each editor has a responsibility to defend the newsroom’s credibility by being as transparent as possible.

The fact that Times of Malta’s editorial “has already asked management to communicate with it should any funding be received through the association” so that “readers can be informed of any such funding” also does not confirm whether the association itself – which has not made itself available for comment to begin with – will be obliged to do so or whether disclosure of any funding that is received will be optional.

MaltaToday’s response is even less committal than the response provided by the Times of Malta in this regard, because it does not even indicate that the newsroom has asked its management to provide information but is resting on an assumption of trust that such information will be disclosed.

One Comment

  • Matthew says:

    It’s a shame that even under the pretence that they are independent media outlets, they fail to realise what their comments imply, or even worse, have no option to act prudently and provide a clear picture of what is going on.

    Well done on this piece.

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