Times of Malta, 5th July 2008

Journalists’ representative bodies yesterday described as unacceptable Mepa’s attitude towards reporters during the Mepa board hearing of the Fort Cambridge development application.

The turbulent Mepa hearing hit an early snag after a statement announcing that the project had been approved accidentally ended up in the hands of the press before the meeting had even started. The statement was found in one of the press packs by a journalist who collected it from a freely available pile. However, the PR executive responsible for writing the statement, Peter Gingell, later in the afternoon said that journalists had taken the document from some working papers which he had brought with him to the meeting.

“This same journalist took the draft press release, which being a draft had inaccuracies with the application number and dates and maliciously began showing it to the other journalists and the public present.” Both the Journalists’ Committee and the Institute of Maltese Journalists, however, insisted that the journalists at the meeting had carried out their duty admirably in bringing to public attention a draft press release.

“This incident alone sows doubts on the transparency and integrity of the Mepa board hearing and its new chairman,” their joint statement said.

The Committee and the Institute find Mepa’s accusations against a journalist of “malicious actions” and of disrupting the meeting to be totally unacceptable and deplorable, the statement said.

According to journalists present, in fact, the PR executive was not in a position to describe how the document came into the journalists’ hands because he wasn’t around at the time, as he admitted himself when he said that he was ushering people in at the time.

“Hence, the allegations of maliciousness are even more irresponsible,” spokesmen for the Committee and Institute, said.

“The PRO must have been upset for having foiled his superiors since he demanded to be given the photographs of the press release in question. Such an arrogant demand by a public official is deplorable by any standard.

Mr Gingell should apologise for calling into question the integrity of the journalist, who brought this incident to public attention,” the statement said.