The editor of Newsbook, Kevin Papagiorcopulo, declined to answer questions on censorship of Newsbook journalists’ pictures and video interview of a press conference outside the Curia a month ago.
Newsbook is a national, wide-ranging media platform run by Beacon Media Group, which is in turn owned by more than 30 religious organisations. The Maltese archdiocese is the largest shareholder.
Contacted on the phone – after written questions remained unanswered – and asked if he would be replying, Papagiorcopulo said: “There is no need to reply.”
Asked whether he had taken the decision to censor, or refrain from using, the images and video interview, he said: “Thank you for your interest. If I would be replying, I will let you know.”
Two journalists of Newsbook were present for the press conference or protest by civil society organization Moviment Graffitti and Gozitan residents affected by a land grab in Gozo. In the press conference, the NGO called on the archbishop to dismiss the rector of a medieval foundation he appointed in 2017, and initiate legal proceedings against land transfers made by the rector.
These land transfers delivered the developable lands of the foundation to two companies which are making millions from the development of flats. Graffitti said that the archbishop has a “moral duty to act” after the archbishop himself testified in court that the rector is supposed to leave the land intact.
The archbishop had decisive, discretionary control over the land transfers before he “renounced” that faculty on the same day that he appointed the lawyer Patrick Valentino as rector.
The two Newsbook journalists, whose name is being withheld, took pictures of the event and afterwards conducted a video interview with Andre Callus, chief activist within Moviment Graffitti.
These pictures and video interview did not appear on Newsbook.
Instead, an article was published on Newsbook around 30 minutes before the press conference commenced. This article was built around a press release published on the church website at around the same time. In the press release, the church build a false narrative to account for the archbishop’s decisions to appoint Valentino and cede his power of veto over land transfers.
The Newsbook article was later updated by a couple of paragraphs about the press conference tacked to the end of the article.
No pictures of the press conference or protest were used. Newsbook simply used an aerial picture of Qala town centre. The picture does not even show the lands affected by the land grab, or the sprawling blocks of flats marring Qala’s townscape.
In the questions sent to Kevin Papagiorcopulo – which, as already pointed out, he declined to answer – he was asked why pictures of the protest were not used with the article, who decided not to publish the video interview, whether this amounts to censorship of Newsbook journalists own work, and whether something like this serves to demoralize journalists.
Papagiorcopulo has worked in the church’s communications since 2009. In 2015, the present archbishop, Charles Scicluna, appointed him Head of Media, and last November he appointed him editor of Newsbook.
In its blurb, Newsbook says that it is “inspired by the Christian ethos” and it “is deemed to be fair, accurate and trustworthy.”
The website is a fully-fledged national news platform.