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Editorial | Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Big fish in a small pond

MaltaToday has been served with no fewer than seven libel suits for its assiduous reportage on a matter of great ecological, economic and political concern: the giant, multi-million and controversial tuna-ranching industry, and the soon to become extinct bluefin tuna of the Mediterranean.
This newspaper has diligently chronicled the events and procedures of how an enormous amount of tuna exports, allegedly fished by other states over and above their allotted quotas – and therefore fished illegally – came to be registered as Maltese import in the official trade records of Japan, the world’s greatest consumer of prized tuna belly meat.
According to Japanese export statistics, Malta exported in one year close to 12 million kgs of tuna to this country. But experts and wildlife conservation organisations claim that the Maltese tuna farming industry can only physically ranch, and therefore produce, 6 million kg of tuna.
Answers supplied by fisheries minister George Pullicino of how Malta could have realistically farmed such an enormous amount of tuna have been published, but still opens up his ministry and this government to some serious allegations of possible involvement in an international tuna laundering racket: allegations which this newspaper is informed are now being examined by the European Commission, as well as by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).
But in a turn of events that clearly shows a serious attempt at gagging MaltaToday and stopping it from exposing a questionable state of affairs, Malta’s tuna farming industry has turned the big guns onto this newspaper.
Seven fishing companies, including those owned by Charles Azzopardi – a man with whom minister George Pullicino is very much acquainted, indeed with whom he has holidayed – have sued this newspaper over reports concerning tuna export statistics which the Maltese government has presented to ICCAT and the Japanese figures of how much tuna it imported from Malta.
With such a massive show of force, there is no doubt that the industry is out to discourage MaltaToday’s critical media reporting on such a matter of serious public and international interest.
This newspaper is responding with equal force, by demanding the Courts to hear these libel suits with urgency, and with a serious intention to summon international experts from Greenpeace, among others, to confirm MaltaToday’s correct and factual reporting.
Readers would perhaps be unaware of the massive and multi-million interests of the tuna industry. MaltaToday’s report itself concerns a questionable consignment believed to be worth €100 million of tuna, a fish fast nearing total stocks collapse in the Mediterranean due to the heavily intensive fish farming industry that caters to Japanese demand.
The European Commission has responded clearly on the matter, by closing the tuna fishing season two weeks ahead of time due to illegalities occurring in the industry, which also included illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing of tuna.
Conservation agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace attest to the fact that Japan’s huge appetite for tuna, which now depends upon Mediterranean supply, is bringing tuna stocks to the brink of commercial extinction unless fisheries agree on more rigid quotas.
Experts quoted by MaltaToday claim Malta’s industry cannot realistically produce as much tuna as what has been declared in Japanese export statistics – which has prompted the question: where has all this tuna come from?
Today we reveal yet new instances of irregular conduct in the Maltese fishing business. This newspaper is asking what steps the Attorney General will take in the light of an inquiry report, submitted to his office two months ago, implicating Azzopardi Fisheries in serious shipping and fishing irregularities. MEPA is also called upon to explain how it is has tolerated so many flagrant breaches of permit conditions in this industry.
The libel suits filed by the Maltese tuna farming industry are a wholly unacceptable threat to the media’s freedom and freedom of speech; an attempt to protect the powerful from public scrutiny, to treat investigative news reporting as a crime, and to use Maltese libel law as a sedition law for their exclusive use.
This newspaper will stand up and be counted and will not bow down to pressure from this powerful industry.


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Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email