Malta Film Commission sues to deny us access to information

13 September 2023

Update: The Film Commission lost its case and judgement was delivered in the Foundation’s favour.

The Malta Film Commissioner has resorted to the civil courts to deny us access to information that has already been found to be in the public interest. The Malta Film Commissioner has asked the court to annul a ruling by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (IDPC) and to revoke a decision by the Information and Data Protection Tribunal that upholds the IDPC’s ruling. The case concerns a freedom of information request we filed in January last year for the amount of public money paid to David Walliams for participating in the 2022 Malta Film Awards.

In our freedom of information request, we had asked the Malta 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 event. 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. The Malta Film Commission refused our 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). Our letter 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 an electronic copy of the invoices it received in connection with David Walliams’ hosting the Malta Film Awards in January this year.

The Malta Film Commission then filed an appeal with the Information and Data Protection Tribunal. The tribunal rejected the appeal and upheld the decision of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner.

Rather than acting in the public interest and releasing the information on public expenditure for which he is responsible, the Malta Film Commissioner has now chosen to take his case to court, adding to the burden he has already put on the public purse with his profligate spending.