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‘Frequent’ rejection of Freedom of Information requests flagged to UN

Ministries received 402 requests between 2015 and 2017

The government’s “frequent” rejection of Freedom of Information requests was flagged to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Times of Malta has learnt.

In a meeting with the UN, PEN International representative Sarah Clarke said there were concerns about the lack of access of independent media to government contracts since the government “frequently” rejected Freedom of Information requests.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act (Cap. 496), which came into force in September 2012, establishes the right for the public to information held by public authorities to promote added transparency and accountability in the government.

Ministries received 402 Freedom of Information requests from media houses and members of the public between 2015 and 2017.

There are a number of grounds on which ministries can refuse to release information, and only 54 per cent on average were upheld in full or in part between 2015 and 2017, according to information given in Parliament.

Only 54% on average were upheld in full or in part

There are a few major concerns with freedom of expression and the press, Ms Clarke told the Times of Malta.

Read: Ministry chided for delaying request for information on Nexia

“The first is on the safety of journalists, the second regarding legislative concerns such as strategic lawsuits against public participation, the third is on access to freedom of information and on lack of media pluralism,” she noted.

During a meeting with the UN Human Rights Council, Ms Clarke raised concerns about the lack of political independence of the media. Malta was one of a handful of countries that, to date, had no policy on media literacy, she said.

In a report presented to the UN, five NGOs also warned that authorities “tolerated” the violence Daphne Caruana Galizia was subjected to before she was murdered.

They said they were “firmly of the opinion this impunity laid the way for her brutal assassination, which was in direct response to her journalistic activities in exposing corruption at the highest levels”.

PEN International and other international press freedom NGOs will be in Malta next week to conduct a fact-finding exercise into Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The NGOs will be meeting Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and the Attorney General, Ms Clarke said.

In all, six NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute and PEN International, will be visiting.

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