Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon defended the government’s new policy to only invite selected media to accompany Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on overseas trips, stating that a fair rotation system was being adopted.
Customarily, all media would be invited to accompany the Prime Minister on press trips abroad, but this all changed when Dr Muscat visited China earlier this month. Only PBS, The Times and MaltaToday were invited to send journalists at the government’s expense: The Malta Independent was the only English-language newspaper not to be invited.
The government’s new policy was not made public until The Malta Independent sought an explanation, and the new policy prompted Nationalist MP Francis Zammit Dimech to ask a parliamentary question to Dr Muscat: although since Dr Zammit Dimech is abroad, fellow MP Robert Cutajar asked the question on his behalf.
Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon
It was up to Dr Falzon to answer the question, and he pointed out that the government is adopting a rotation system for press trips, and will no longer cover the transport and accommodation costs of all media.
He insisted that the rotation system was fair, and pointed out that other newsrooms would be invited to accompany Dr Muscat when he visits the UK next week.
Dr Falzon also pointed out that other media were free to send journalists to press trips at their own expense, but did not take into account the possible difference in costs: flying to China, for instance, can considerably more costly than flying to the UK.
The China visit also gave the journalists present an unprecedented opportunity to ask questions to the elusive special envoy to China, Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi’s wife Sai Mizzi Liang, whose pay package – which reportedly amounts to some €13,000 a month when allowances and perks are factored in – has proven to be controversial.
It is questionable whether the UK visit will provide the media who missed the China trip with such a golden opportunity.
Dr Falzon also went on the defensive in his reply, questioning whether the opposition was casting doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the three journalists who were invited at the government’s expense. At one point, he also insinuated that the opposition would want to select the journalists itself.
Nationalist MP Francis Zammit Dimech
In the written answer PM Muscat gave to the question, he remarked that he hoped that Dr Zammit Dimech was not implying that the journalists who joined him in China - Reno Bugeja (PBS), Ariadne Massa (The Times) and Saviour Balzan (MaltaToday) were not journalists of integrity and impartality.
He added that other media have been invited to join him on a trip to London and Glasgow next week.
Following this newsroom's complaints, The Malta Independent has been invited to accompany the PM on this visit, where he will meet the Queen.