26 Jan 2021

Dr George Hyzler, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, has stated that official press releases issued through the Department of Information should not include partisan political statements.

The Commissioner for Standards came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by Prof Kevin Cassar against the Hon Silvio Schembri, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses. The complaint concerned a press statement issued by the Minister through the Department of Information on 8 October 2020.

The Commissioner found that the publication of the press release represented a breach of ethics on the part of Minister Silvio Schembri, given that ministers are obliged to respect the political impartiality of the public service. The Commissioner noted that ministers and members of the Opposition alike are at liberty to make partisan statements through personal or party channels, but doing so through the Department of Information constitutes an abuse.

The Commissioner therefore upheld the complaint and closed the case after receiving a statement from Minister Schembri acknowledging that his press statement “might have been considered overly partisan” and undertaking to “make every effort to avoid such statements when these are issued through the DOI”. The Commissioner considered this statement to be a sufficient remedy in the circumstances of the case, but he stated that he would take a more serious view of similar future cases.

The Commissioner noted that he had considered the use by ministers of the Department of Information in a report issued in August 2019. He reiterated the recommendation he had made in that report for the Department of Information to develop a policy determining what constitutes acceptable content in statements to be published by it.

The Commission’s report on this case can be downloaded from here.