Fifteen years of MaltaToday

As 2014 draws to an end, so does the 15th year of MaltaToday’s existence as an independent newspaper. 

As 2014 draws to an end, so does the 15th year of MaltaToday’s existence as an independent newspaper. 

MaltaToday was launched in November 1999; and with hindsight, the timing was in many ways pivotal. Malta was at the time gearing up for an epochal decision on EU accession, with wide-ranging ramifications on our national, cultural and economic identity. 

Much of the debate at the time concerned issues that would feature prominently among the mainstays of our mission as a newspaper: accountability, transparency, the need to revisit and reform our national institutions, as well as questions about civil liberties, rights and individual freedoms.

For these and other reasons, MaltaToday was at the forefront of the campaign for a Yes vote in the 2003 EU referendum. This newspaper also took the unprecedented step of openly urging support for accession, at a time when newspapers traditionally held back from airing such direct views.

For better or worse, Malta would also go on to change profoundly in the decade since EU accession… either directly as a result of membership itself, or because of an ongoing process of political and social development that was in any case overdue.  

Though the pace of change may not always be as fast as one would like, no one can deny that new norms of accountability have been introduced in the past 15 years, and recent events have shown that the standards of political responsibility have likewise been raised.

A newspaper named ‘MaltaToday’ cannot be oblivious to these changes. For this reason we have espoused an editorial policy of always taking clear positions on all the major issues of the day. 

Among such campaigns was the 2011 divorce referendum, in which we favoured a Yes on the ground that individual rights and freedoms should not be held to ransom to majority viewpoints.

The result of that referendum alone broadly indicated that the country was in the process of cutting its last apron strings; other seminal changes have since been achieved that might have been considered inconceivable a few years ago.

MaltaToday is proud to have played a part, however small, in this momentous process of change. 

But there were other factors behind the decision to launch an independent newspaper in 1999. The Maltese media landscape was also due for a shake-up. Pluralism had been introduced in broadcasting just under a decade earlier; but with the possible exception of radio, the result was the immediate polarisation of private television stations owned by political parties. 

The independent English-language print media may not have been so overtly biased, but there were other ownership issues that up to a point determined the ebb and flow of news. As for the style of news, most seemed intent on preserving the status quo.

The entire inspiration for a new weekly newspaper in 1999 was in fact to occupy a vacant market niche: an independently owned newspaper with no direct links to political or commercial interests that might cloud judgment or influence news and editorial content.

It is of course up to our readers over the past 15 years to judge whether MaltaToday has successfully maintained that position. One indication may well be how this newspaper has been vilified and disparaged by both sides of the political divide. 

MPs of both Labour and Nationalist persuasion have variously (and often vexatiously) sued for libel. Efforts have been made to forge imaginary links to hidden owners. The late Dom Mintoff demanded to know ‘who was behind MaltaToday’ when he sued this newspaper for libel in the 1990s. Rumours have persistently been circulated, by both PL and PN sources, that it was part-owned by John Dalli.

Clearly, it occurred to nobody that a newspaper could be driven merely by a passion for news for its own sake. Even today, 15 years later, there is resistance to this very simple concept.

MaltaToday also tried (with what measure of success, our readers will determine) to introduce new standards to the quality of news reporting. At a time when reporting, for the most part, involved faithfully reproducing press releases, this newspaper always made it a point to try and dig deeper below the surface. Our efforts have at times been criticised as sensationalist, but they were often consequential.

The sex scandal involving former Police Commissioner George Grech, which was extensively covered in our earliest issues, culminated in the Commissioner’s resignation: then an all but unheard of eventuality. 

Much more recently, our exposure of the oil procurement corruption scandal in 2012 caused shockwaves, and once again drove home the point that more transparency and accountability is demanded, in step with the increasing pace of Malta’s socio-demographic evolution.

Not all our efforts have so far been successful. MaltaToday has also long campaigned in favour of electoral reform, which has yet to see the light of day despite many political promises. This is but one of many unresolved issues that will continue to motivate us in the years to come. 

None of this would have been (or will be in the future) possible without the constant support and feedback we have received from our readers in the past 15 years. To all reading this today, a Happy New Year.

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