The 7th of May has historically been quite interesting…The Palace of Versailles was inaugurated (1664), Germany ceased its participation in the Second World War (1945), Vladimir Putin assumed his presidency of Russia (2000) and the Times of Malta has limited free access to its online content (2013).
Just in case you think I made a typo, the last date does read 2013, which may be surprising to several people. The right to free speech and the right to access information have been very sore topics in Malta. People of my generation fail to understand how such anomalies persist in such a small and seemingly enclosed geographic space. Many challenges have centred around the difficulties between free speech advocates and religious groups (case in point being the ban on the theatre play ‘Stitching’), conservative individuals who are easily offended by what they label as ‘distasteful articles’ (Mark Camilleri and Alex Vella Gera’s controversial short story Li Tkisser Sewwi published in the university pamphlet Realtà) and seemingly ‘unhinged’ bloggers who appear to ‘offend public morals’ (Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog post around Mintoff’s death). I find all of the former cases born out of Maltese stupidity as in this day and age no one’s voice should be suppressed, no matter how controversial the topic is. I find this move by the Times of Malta far more disturbing, carried out in plain sight for all to watch.
By blocking content to foreigners ToM have radically decreased foreign insight into the ‘Maltese bubble’, allowing it to continue to fester into a close-minded entity. This begs the obvious question: “Are ToM trying to hide something from international gazes, or is this simply a case of generating income?”
Personally, I do not think that this is a case of collecting their just desserts from free loading customers. It would be quite disconcerting if all privately owned newspapers around the world follow this same path. I also refuse to believe that any newspaper in 2013 is not generating profits from their readership. While it is true that newspapers are losing out in favour of digital versions, the amount of advertising (close to spamming in some cases) has to amount to a considerable portion of income.
While many people would tell you to choose an alternative portal, it is entirely besides the point. As a citizen of Malta, this move makes me feel as though I am being punished for living abroad. ToM have the highest readership for any Maltese newspaper, so this move is essentially stifling people’s access to free information. Many international users employ online articles for research and other purposes, so making them pay for it is simply disgusting.
The 7th of May should go down in history as the day Malta began to suppress free online access to information. Which other communication stream will start charging its followers for online use? Will it be Maltatoday, Bay Radio, The Malta Independent, Di-ve.com?