Lifting a middle finger to Steward

Then and now MaltaToday was highly critical of the deal with Steward and before that Vitals, where Ernst also had the role of CEO

Some weeks ago, I received court documents in Spanish. I cannot read Spanish but it was obvious that the papers indicated that Steward Health Care had instituted defamation proceedings against this media house and MaltaToday journalist Matthew Vella. 

The court papers called on MediaToday to show up in a Spanish Court. Steward was requesting damages to the tune of €25,000 and if the court found this company guilty, to publish a prominent advert with the court decision in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and Le Soir. Adverts in these reputable newspapers usually costs thousands. 

Understandably, we will not be visiting Madrid and we will not be engaging in any court litigation. 

Yesterday, MediaToday wrote to Prime Minister Robert Abela calling on him to introduce anti-SLAPP legislation to protect journalists and media houses from vexatious court action intended to shut us up. The Prime Minister has in front of him a proposal drawn up by the Committee of Media Experts but calls for anti-SLAPP legislation have long been made by the IGM and others. 

If Abela really means what he says about the freedom of the press in Malta he should be the first one to take action and enact legislation that will allow us to do our job and report on matters that are of public interest. 

Steward decided to take us to court because the company did not get what it wanted from MaltaToday when, some two years ago, Armin Ernst, the CEO and president of Steward, appeared unannounced at my office. 

He came along with an innocuous young Maltese lawyer whom I remember working for an online news site – one of those sites always professing to be more virginal than the Virgin Mary. 

I will not reveal the content of the conversation that took place that day but I was under the impression at the time that Ernst was following the advice of the former prime minister Joseph Muscat. 

Muscat did not try and hide his connection to Steward after he unceremoniously resigned from office in January 2020, even though his first obligation was to his country and his party. 

Then and now MaltaToday was highly critical of the deal with Steward and before that Vitals, where Ernst also had the role of CEO.   

The manner by which Vitals and Steward did things was to enlist the services of as many influential Maltese as was humanly possible. Former Nationalist propagandists now turned Labour lackeys; Labour activists who worked on the fourth floor; former Nationalist MPs; and keeping a very deep bond with the powers that be. 

Now we know that the Vitals and Steward deal under Ernst was basically the great train robbery for this country. Thanks to Joseph Muscat they set up house in Malta and were offered a deal to die for without a decent due diligence. To put it mildly, it remains one of the biggest mistakes of the Labour administration. 

The transfer of the three public hospitals was more akin to a Thatcherite political agenda and I am sure that Muscat would not feel offended if he was accused of being a Thatcherite. 

I recall that he was always more excited with news about Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi and David Cameron than his international Labour and Socialist counterparts. 

But back to Ernst. 

Ernst is obviously trying to win some brownie points with his boss Ralph de la Torre, the owner of Steward, but Ernst believes that by taking MediaToday and Matthew Vella to a Madrid court we will crumble and fall apart. 

But he does not quite understand where we come from. This media house was born out of a garage with the ‘misguided’ dream to change the world. 

This media company has received more defamation cases than any other journalist in Malta; more SLAPP action than any other media house. We have survived and will continue to do journalism in the public interest. 

The truth is that the deal with Steward was a very simple case of daylight robbery. 

Vitals and Steward were brought over to Malta to enrich a few individuals. When the grass grows, it will serve as an eye-opener about Muscat’s true intentions and how people including myself were taken for a ride and mesmerised by his fake intentions. 

Had it not been for Adrian Delia’s resolve to persevere with the court case to rescind the deal, we would still have Steward operating in Malta even though the American outfit added zilch value to our health system. 

It succeeded in only one simple venture – sucking Maltese public funds to benefit the shareholders. 

We should have objected or raised an eyebrow to Muscat’s stratagem of bringing these hungry villains to replace our perfectly sane health system. Those who say they did not know, are also being untruthful. 

So, it seems, the Madrid courts may well declare MediaToday and Matthew Vella to be guilty as hell for reporting on Steward, but this will not silence us. 

It is up to Robert Abela to play his part and ensure that journalists in this country remain free to transmit the news unhindered by the ruses of former politicians and their greedy clients.