The Malta Independent 25 April 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Political convenience - Konrad Mizzi, the media and libel cases

Friday, 8 February 2019, 09:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

Konrad Mizzi was in the news for two reasons these past few days.

The minister was first reprimanded by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life for selecting specific media to cover his governmental activities. Later, Mizzi announced that he would be withdrawing his libel cases because – his words – he wants to focus on his ministerial duties.

In his first ruling, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler did not find Mizzi had breached the code of conduct, but at the same time adjudged that Mizzi had behaved in a discriminatory manner when he invited only friendly media (our words) to an activity related to the Malta Film Commission late last year.

That time, he had invited the state broadcasting station PBS and the Labour Party media One, knowing that he did not have to face any troubling questions from them. This was indirectly confirmed by the Minister himself in his defence with Hyzler, with Mizzi saying that other media had not been invited because they “had been openly and persistently hostile in his regard”.

In a nutshell, Mizzi had been afraid to face journalists from the independent media who were likely to have asked him more pertinent questions about his Panama Papers links and what has developed since. With his words, Mizzi indirectly admitted his fear of independent media.

The Malta Film Commission event had not been the first and only time that Mizzi had shunned the independent media. The Malta Independent has written editorially about his methods of avoiding independent media several times.

To be fair, in more recent weeks, Mizzi has attended events organised by the Malta Tourism Authority, Malta International Airport and Air Malta – to which all media were invited.

Wednesday’s statement that Mizzi will be withdrawing several libel cases which, he said, were “distracting” him from being more focussed on “delivering projects” aimed to “boost the economy” carries more hidden reasons that the minister would like everyone to think.

He is claiming that the recent “outright rejection” by the courts of law with respect to cases filed by former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil meant that there “is no evidence supporting allegations of wrongdoing”. He will not continue to pursue his libel cases in court because “defending against baseless allegations and repelling slander takes both an emotional and administrative toll”.

But there is another side to the story. The decision to withdraw the cases comes days after Nexia BT partner Karl Cini was summoned to testify in court in one of the hearings to be held in March. Cini, along with Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna, handled the offshore set-up of Panamanian accounts of Minister Konrad Mizzi and Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Cini’s testimony could have shed new light on the scandal that has plagued both Mizzi and Schembri ever since the Panama Papers came to light in 2016.

That the minister chose to withdraw his libel cases against Busuttil and others at this particular moment cannot but raise suspicions that there was a possibility that more important revelations could have been made in court.

So Mizzi will not begrudge us if we are looking forward to his next media event where we will be asking him about the real reasons why he withdrew the libel cases.

Let’s hope he will take Hyzler’s advice and invite all the media next time round.

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