Ever so often this keeps coming up. Keith Schembri, whose testimony is to be taken with extreme caution, said something about someone today, we’ve often heard before.

This is the exchange with Therese Comodini Cachia as reported on Times of Malta:

‘Lobbying’ journalists 

3.02pm Schembri is asked about meeting with journalists. He says some were closer than others.

Did he ever discuss Pilatus and the Panama Papers with them?

Schembri: I never talked about things concerning me.

He says some journalists demanded things and applied pressure.

“There must be a distinction between journalists and lobbyists,” he says. Coming to my office demanding things is not on. They would wield their pen the following Sunday.”

Comodini Cachia asks for names.

Schembri: [Malta Today editor] Saviour Balzan came to me more than once asking for [TV] programmes. Not once, it was a normal occurrence. He would lobby for certain companies.  Now I know what to expect next Sunday!

This thing that Saviour Balzan is a whore is not new. A friend of mine just lost a libel suit for calling someone in public life a ‘qaħba’ in the context of the Maltese phrase that “milli jkollha ttik”. The context here is different. Saviour Balzan is not about what he gives but about what he takes, and I suppose that is the defining characteristic of a whore, not the extent to which they put out but the extent to which they charge for it.

Read this piece I had written in July 2019 recalling how at the time of the last PN administration, Saviour Balzan approached a government official under political pressure offering to sell his silence on the issue. I had written that piece when news broke that Saviour Balzan was doing PR work for the government on the Central Link project all the while his newspaper reporters had been critical of all the tree-chopping going on.

This is profoundly unethical. Think about it. We all have to accept that journalists have biases with which we have to live. They will report what they want to report and we will know what they want us to know. The point is that there should be enough journalists for us to find out about anything we need to know. Someone somewhere will be there to tell us.

But with Saviour Balzan we will know either what people pay him to report or what people have not paid him enough to stop him from reporting it.

The relationship between Keith Schembri and Saviour Balzan is certainly far more complex than Keith Schembri would have us believe. The wee hours’ phone calls, first denied, then confirmed by documentary evidence, do not fit the narrative of a journalist “lobbying” a government official. Frankly, it looks rather like the other way round.

But there’s no innocent party here. And in the context where more and more people come out to say that Saviour Balzan has solicited, and sought to extort money out of, them in order to define his editorial line, his position as a journalist and media owner is ever more untenable.

Extorting money, whether it is for a government contract or for content on the front page of a newspaper, is corrupt and against the public interest. On top of that is the fact that Saviour Balzan is a news show anchor working for the national broadcaster. Indeed, and supremely ironically, the seat on TV is the currency with which he seeks to be paid when he offers his integrity for the sodomisation by and on behalf of the people on whom he’s supposed to report.

Saviour Balzan has never been able to properly explain away these consistent reports of journalistic prostitution. He has no place in the business.