The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

International media groups express concern at spoof websites, local disinformation campaign

Tuesday, 31 August 2021, 15:32 Last update: about 3 months ago

The partner organisations in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are highly concerned about attempts to spread disinformation and discredit Maltese journalists and bloggers who write about the recently indicted murder suspect alleged to have orchestrated and funded the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.

On 26 August, blogger Manuel Delia wrote that “someone somewhere is pretending to be me and sending emails that look like I’ve sent them and building spoof websites to look like they’re carrying things I wrote.”

The smear campaign included fake emails from Delia saying he was suffering from a mental illness.

On 28 and 29 August, it was then reported that the websites of news outlets Newsbook, Net News, Lovin Malta, TVM and StradaRjali as well as the non-governmental organisation Repubblika were spoofed.

Many of the fake platforms were registered using the same domain registration service.

The common thread between the fake articles is their apparent aim of discrediting journalists and bloggers writing about the alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech and casting doubt on the prosecution’s case against him.

The MFRR noted in a statement that blogger and University of Malta lecturer Simon Mercieca has been “feeding the frenzy” and making false claims on Manuel Delia as he tries to spread false information aiming to “discredit reporters who cover criminal proceedings related to the main suspect in Caruana Galizia’s murder.”

Earlier this month, Mercieca attempted to damage the reputation of Matthew Xuereb, Assistant Editor at the Times of Malta and President of the Institute of Maltese Journalists, by falsely claiming that Xuereb was behind a fake Facebook trolling profile.

Mercieca has also targeted the Caruana Galizia family, falsely claiming that they were in privileged possession of a non-PDF electronic version of the report of the Public Inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination in advance of its publication which, Mercieca claimed, “allows the family to make corrections and changes, possibly also to its advantage”.

The MFRR said that it stands in solidarity with the targeted journalists, media workers and members of civil society.

“We call on all those involved to immediately end their campaign of disinformation. The Maltese State must swiftly investigate and prosecute any criminal acts committed in this context,” they said.

“Furthermore, we call on the Maltese authorities to take decisive action towards the implementation of the Public Inquiry’s recommendations concerning the protection of journalists, including those stemming from its identification of the State’s failure to protect reporters and media workers before attacks escalate to physical violence,” they added.

The statement was signed by Article 19, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), International Press Institute (IPI), and OBC Transeuropa (OBCT).

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