On the matter of press cards issued by the Department of Information

Published: January 19, 2016 at 6:18pm

I have been working as a journalist for 26 years without a press card from the Department of Information, except for two or three brief periods when I had no choice but to hold one at the request of the newspaper for which I worked at the time.

It has always shocked me that Maltese newspaper editors consent to this offensive practice of having press cards issued by the Maltese government – more specifically, by the Office of the Prime Minister, under whose responsibility the Department of Information falls – a unique practice in the democratic world.

News organisations and media houses should supply journalists with their own press cards of accreditation. The universally standard practice in the democratic world is for journalists to be accredited by those for whom they work, or by their union or trade association, most certainly not by the government because they don’t work for the government and the government should never have any process that even remotely resembles the ‘licensing’ of journalists.

When journalists are asked, outside Malta, for their accreditation, what this means is proof that they work for the organisation they say they do. And that proof has to come from the organisation itself, and not the government of the country.

Proof doesn’t even have to come in the form of a press card. I don’t have a press card. I have never found one necessary, except for the situations in Malta which I describe further down. Whenever I apply for participation in a fair, exhibition, conference or event elsewhere in Europe, and am asked for accreditation, or ask for an interview with somebody outside Malta and have to get past a battery of assistants, I cite the newspaper, blog or magazine I work for, depending on the situation, and send them a screenshot of my by-line. If I were to give them a government-issue press card they would laugh and ask whether Malta is Beijing. They would also assume that I work for the Maltese government.

Successive Nationalist governments, instead of eliminating this backward system, simply made it more elaborate and, to show that it had nothing to do with control, issued press cards to anybody with a signed form from a media owner. This meant that the political parties, both of which own large media houses, could obtain Department of Information press cards for anyone they wished, whether they were journalists or not. So could other media owners, if they were so inclined. Of course, they can also issue whoever they please with their own media house press card, but that is a separate issue.

As the media scene in Malta exploded – thanks, ironically, to the liberalisation policies of those Nationalist governments and the new mood of growth and freedom – the Department of Information began receiving more and more requests for press cards and evolved to cope. Now there was an official list of journalists at the Department of Information – as distinct, I hasten to add, from a list of official journalists.

The big mystery, to my mind, was how the screamingly obvious wasn’t that obvious to media operators, who consented to and colluded with this ridiculous and offensive system and still do so, and to the government itself: why exactly was and is it in the business of accrediting Malta’s journalists? One of the things that maddens me about life in Malta is how people are brainwashed and programmed through the education system, religion and discipline in the home to unquestioningly accept rules and systems, without ever examining the thinking behind them or considering the implications.

Some years ago, when I picked a fight about this press card business with some government officials, I was told that the Department of Information accreditation “is necessary for entry to government press conferences”. I tried my best to be civilised, but tend to find in such situations that using logic and common sense is like trying to wade through thick mud. Many years have passed, but this is a rough approximation of the conversation.

“Is the DOI press card there to approve which journalists are allowed in to a government press conference or to ensure that the people going in to government press conferences are in fact journalists as they claim to be, and not, say, potential assassins?”


“Do you want to make sure that only journalists are going in to the room for the press conference?”


“Because if the reason for the card is to make sure that only journalists are going in to ask questions, then a card from their media organisation, from their employer, is enough. You can then hand them a ‘P’ clip-on tag just as you give visitors a ‘V’ tag.”


“But if you won’t accept press cards issued by media houses, then it’s safe to assume that the reason you will only allow people in if they have a Department of Information card, as distinct from proof that they work as a journalist, is so that you can control which journalists are allowed entry. Except that you don’t want to control which journalists are allowed entry because you’re giving press cards to everyone, including an editor’s PA the last time I looked, so it makes even less sense.”


“I tested it myself, you know, some days ago. That’s why I’m here today. I turned up at the Office of the Prime Minister for a press conference and wasn’t allowed in.”


“Yes, exactly. But the people at the door used my name to turn me away. They said, “I’m sorry, Mrs Caruana Galizia, but you can’t come in because you don’t have a DOI press card.” Which means that they recognised me, and they knew who I am. And it’s not because they meet me at the supermarket. Which also means that the reason I wasn’t allowed in isn’t because I’m not a journalist, but because I don’t have a DOI press card. And it therefore follows from this that you’re using the DOI press card not as proof of identity as a journalist, but as a sorting system in and of itself. Except that you are not using a sorting system when issuing those cards, so it’s even crazier.”


“The clerks guarding the door had a copy of The Malta Independent on Sunday on their desk. I picked it up, turned to my column and said to them, “Look, proof that I write for a newspaper. But you don’t need it, do you, because you have already used my name.” But it was useless arguing because apparently the practice nowadays is put your least intelligent staff on the door, where they are first-greeters. So then I had to use my mobile phone to ring the person in charge of the press conference to ask what in God’s name this dumb system is, and why I am being prevented from entering the room because I don’t have one of their poxy cards, which apparently constitutes a special permit from the government to cover its press conferences. And anticipating a scene, the person in charge of the press conference came out to get me and said, “Look, you have to get a DOI press card.””


“But I said, “You must be joking. I am most certainly not going to get a little card from the government signifying permission to cover its own press conferences. What is this, Baku?” So here I am, to tell you how fundamentally wrong your policy is, and how self-undermining our employers are not to see exactly why it is wrong, and to take a stand against it. Journalists should not need a government Department of Information permit – in the form of a DOI press card – to be allowed in to a press conference by the government. What they need is a card from their newspaper or whatever, on the basis of which they get a ‘PRESS’ lanyard as they go in, and then only to prove that they are not some random heckler from the street or somebody about to make an attempt on the minister’s life.”

Fat lot of good that did. The system is still the same. Oh well, I tried. You would imagine that the Institute of Maltese Journalists would be the first to object to this system, but most journalists I have known along the way don’t even think it’s an issue. Of course it is – just think about it. A press card issued by the Office of the Prime Minister through the Department of Information? Come on, where are we living?