I am writing to provide a fuller picture of the facts that have led me to leave Malta for a while. I have to do so because I have left room for misinterpretation and controversy that distracts from the real and burning issues facing this country.
In an interview with an Italian press freedom NGO that got in touch with me because of all that was happening this last month, I was asked what I intended to do about my and my family’s safety. I told them I had decided to spend some time away from the country because I wasn’t comfortable with my state of security here.
The security concerns come in three layers.
First, I am a frontline government critic with political enemies everywhere. I am misrepresented on an almost daily basis on the Labour Party media as some puppet master of the Opposition Leader. I am fairly recognisable and my family has suffered as a result of that in the past. One time, my wife was assaulted in broad daylight in the street, physically hurt and her phone destroyed. There are court protection orders on those assailants and others who have resorted to explicit threats that led to criminal prosecutions.
Second, I went through two weeks of cyber-intimidation, email and website spoofing, text harassment, and anonymous phone calls. The content of these efforts all appeared to have been made with the intent of confirming what Yorgen Fenech’s defenders in court and outside it were alleging about my reporting. It is clear that I have been singled out, by him, as Yorgen Fenech’s principal enemy in the press.
Third, an election is approaching and tension is mounting. There are Labour voters that think of the election as an opportunity to punish and silence critics of the government like me. There are people who claim they vote for the Nationalist Party who think that critics of the government, like me, are to blame for the Nationalist Party losing elections. In this heat anyone comforted by the environment of impunity, the propaganda on Labour news media, and the discrediting campaign supporting Yorgen Fenech, might think it heroic to cause me, or my family, or my property physical damage.
I would be irresponsible not to take measures to avoid inviting violence.
During the cyber-bullying of two weeks ago, I took up the opportunity to participate in the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s program of offering safe houses for journalists at risk.
In the context above, I saw this and continue to see this as an opportunity to draw the heat away from my family and I took up the offer.
The ECMPF scheme “offers temporary shelter for journalists facing harassment and intimidation as a direct result of their work.”
I am not surprised to learn that Caroline Muscat, who has written about my decision to leave, had been previously offered participation in this program too. I respect her decision not to take the offer, for her reasons, but I cannot fathom why her article of last night would imply that it is not true I am leaving Malta because of safety issues, perceived or otherwise.
She suggests I am leaving Malta to find a job elsewhere.
The first answer is that even if this is true, I don’t understand the objection. If instead of the EMCPF I got a call from a hotel in Vladivostok offering me a dishwasher’s job in their staff kitchen as an opportunity to stay away for a while, I would have taken it.
The real issue here is that being a truth-seeking journalist in Malta has become a risky business. Caroline Muscat knows and has experienced the intimidation too. Thus, her attempt to discredit me and cast doubts about my motivations is surprising and saddening.
I have taken this decision in order to seek, as best I can, the safety of my family. Everybody is free to disagree with that strategy and may feel, as The Shift News evidently does, that leaving them for months while I camp in an apartment somewhere is my idea of fun.
It is not and I am grateful to the Institute of Journalists and the many others who have shown support and understanding.