The Malta Film Commission has been ordered to give us electronic copies of invoices it received in connection with David Walliams’ hosting the Malta Film Awards in January this year. The allocated budget for the Malta Film Awards was €400,000, but Malta Film Week cost some €1.3 million and the public has not been told how the money was spent.
When Film Commissioner Johann Grech was asked, in an interview with the Times of Malta, about Mr Walliam’s contract, he said the Film Commission would “issue all the numbers after the Film Awards”. The Film Commission didn’t issue the numbers, so we filed a Freedom of Information request. We asked the Film Commission for all invoices it received from Mr Walliams, or his agents or associated companies or individuals, or on their behalf, in connection with the show. The Film Commission refused our FOI request, claiming “there is good reason for withholding the requested document.”
We replied with a formal complaint, pointing out that the documents we requested are not exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, and that the FOI Act provides a legal means for issuing documentation with “all the numbers” to those who ask for it, enabling the Film Commission to fulfil its promise of transparency. We also said that providing a copy of the invoices would not prejudice or harm the Film Commission’s commercial interests, nor Mr Walliams’, as the Film Commission claimed. Given Mr Walliams’ extraordinary status as a celebrity, creator, writer, and actor, who has over 2,000,000 followers on social media, it is highly unlikely that the amount he was paid to host the awards would harm his reputation and commercial interests, or affect him adversely.
The Malta Film Commission again refused our request, this time citing confidentiality and a decision by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on the disclosure of earnings. We took our request a step further and wrote to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (IDPC). In our letter, we said that various independent UK-based media outlets have reported Mr Walliam’s net worth and the earnings of some of his professional activities, so it is unlikely that disclosing the amount the Malta Film Commission paid him would have a substantial adverse effect on him. The IDPC found that the Film Commission had cited the ICO decision out of context and that it does not apply in this case, and that the ICO distinguishes between private and public lives.
The IDPC noted the confidentiality clause in the agreement with Mr Walliams could not be used to prevent disclosure of the amount he was paid, and that the Malta Film Commission did not attempt to explain or substantiate its claim that disclosing the requested invoice would prejudice its affairs of those of Mr Walliams, ruling that the Film Commission must give us a e-copy of the invoice.
The Malta Film Commission now has 20 days to file a complaint to the Appeals Tribunal or hand over copies of the invoices. As we’ve done with previous FOI requests, we’ll let you know how that goes.