Muscat ‘breached ethics’; escapes action following resignation

George Hyzler upholds Newsbook's complaint against former PM

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat talks to the media as he arrives at his office at Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta, December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former PM Joseph Muscat was found to have breached the code of ethics of ministers but has escaped facing “further action” against him since he resigned from his position, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded.

In a statement, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler said that he found that Muscat breached ethics when his office invited some media houses but not others to a media event organised by his office.

The Commissioner for Standards came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by Sylvana Debono, Editor-in-Chief of Newsbook.com.mt, against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Ms Debono complained that on 22 November 2019, Prime Minister Muscat invited the media to Castille to give a statement about the investigations on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but Newsbook.com.mt was not invited.

The Commissioner found that there were occasions when Prime Minister Muscat gave comments to journalists who had been waiting for him outside Castille. On 22 November 2019, his communications office sent for the media but it did so selectively. The reason given for this by the communications office was that the event was held at very short notice.

The Commissioner found that Muscat’s reply to the complaint was “somewhat ambiguous, if not outright contradictory.”

The Commissioner concluded that once it was the Prime Minister who sent for the media, he was obliged to issue the invitation to all media houses. This could have been done by email in a matter of minutes. This obligation does not restrict a minister’s right to grant an interview or take part in an event at the request of a particular media house.

The Commissioner did not consider it necessary to recommend any remedial action since Dr Joseph Muscat resigned as Prime Minister on the 13th of January 2020.

While Muscat said that the incident in question was a case of journalists’ door-stepping him, the Commissioner found that Muscat intended to make a statement and did not start by responding to questions.

Hyzler said that he can’t understand why the usual practice of all media houses being invited was not used on the 22nd of November.

In November, the Institute of Maltese Journalists in a strongly worded statement condemned the way the Office of the Prime Minister was censuring a number of media houses including Newsbook.com.mt.

On the 22nd of November, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in a comment to select members of the press declined to comment on whether more persons were held for questioning in the early hours of the day.

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