The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

Caruana Galizia murder ‘darkest hour for media freedom since Charlie Hebdo massacre’

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 27 November 2018, 17:06 Last update: about 14 days ago

The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom has called the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia “an event which represented the darkest hour for media freedom and media pluralism in the European Union since the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in France.” 

The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (a research and training centre that aims to develop innovative and relevant lines of research on media freedom and pluralism in Europe and beyond,) made the aforementioned comparison in their Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) report for 2017. The MPM is a tool that has been developed by the Centre to assess the risks for media pluralism in a given country.

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In its Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) report for 2017, the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom referred to this assassination of the Maltese journalist as a crime that has “profoundly shaken Europe and has had an impact on its image as a bastion of human rights and democratic values.” 

As a general trend, the report reads, “the MPM for 2017 depicts an alarming situation for journalists and other media actors in most of the assessed countries including Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Romania and Turkey. “The working conditions of journalists have deteriorated and journalists are facing all kinds of threats (physical, online and other) directed at them by citizens, politicians and organised crime.” 

In terms of basic protection for journalists, which encompasses five indicators (Protection of right to information; Protection of freedom of expression; Journalistic profession, standards and protection; Independence and effectiveness of the media authority; Universal reach of traditional media and access to the Internet) Malta scored a medium risk, along with 13 other countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, FYRoM, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain).

The country specific report for Malta breaks down the basic protection indicators individually which resulted in the country receiving a medium risk for this category, with their individual scores.

In terms of the Protection of the right to information indicator, Malta scores a medium risk (56%). “Access to information is guaranteed by the Maltese Constitution and by a specific law, namely the Freedom of Information Act which was enacted in December 2008, but fully brought into force in 2012... MPM investigations reveal that journalists sometimes have problems accessing government information. Access to information requests and appeals are not effective in such situations and, in particular, for the daily media outlets, since the procedures are often prolonged, making the information outdated by the time it is revealed.”

 “Another issue that contributes to the risk scoring of this indicator is the weakness of legislation on the protection of whistleblowers. Malta’s Protection of the Whistleblower Act came into force on 15th September 2013. The law does not protect whistleblowers if they fail to first resort to internal reporting procedures, or if they report to the press or other media.” 

In terms of the Protection of Freedom of Expression indicator, Malta acquired a relatively low 24% risk score, however “this represents a 15 percentage point increase compared to 2016 when it was only 9%. The main reason for this increase is the assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16th October 2017, which was seen to have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

In terms of the Journalistic Profession, Standards and Protection indicator, Malta scores a medium risk (36%), up 5 percentage points compared to the low risk score (30%) of 2016. “This, too, is directly linked to the murder of Caruana Galizia. It goes without saying that threats to journalists’ physical safety and integrity have an impact on the general state of media freedom in a given country.” 

The fourth basic indicator is ‘The Independence and the Effectiveness of the Media Authority’. It scored a medium risk (35%). “The Broadcasting Authority monitors and regulates radio and television broadcasting in Malta. The Chairperson and four members of its board are appointed by political decision and agreement between the two major political parties: two members are selected by the Prime Minister, two by the Opposition, while the Chairperson is generally chosen by mutual agreement.” 

The last indicator - Universal reach of traditional media and access to the Internet - scores a low risk (31%). 

Overall, in terms of basic protection which encompasses the above indicators, Malta scored a 36%, which is a medium risk, the report reads. 

Malta also scored a medium risk score (63%) when it comes to political independence, which has its own separate set of indicators. “The Political Independence area maintains the overall medium risk scoring it has had since 2016.” 

The Political Independence indicators assess the existence and effectiveness of regulatory safeguards against political bias and political control over the media outlets, news agencies and distribution networks, the report explains. “They are also concerned with the existence and effectiveness of self-regulation in ensuring editorial independence. Moreover, they seek to evaluate the influence of the state (and, more generally, of political power) over the functioning of the media market and the independence of public service media.” 

The Political independence of Media indicator is one such indicator for this category, and scored a very high 83% risk level. “There is no law that makes government office incompatible with media ownership.” The report also highlights how the government is expressly permitted to own, control or be editorially responsible for nationwide television and radio services, under certain conditions, and media ownership by the two major parties. “Some Maltese experts interviewed voice the view that, in comparison to other EU countries, political parallelism in Malta is simply more transparent, ensuring that different political viewpoints are represented in the media system. There is more concern about the more indirect and non-transparent political influence over Public Service Media.”

Another indicator within this category is the Editorial autonomy indicator, which scores a high risk (75%), mainly due to the lack of regulatory and self-regulatory measures that safeguard editorial independence in the news media.

The Independence of Public Service Media (PSM) Governance and Funding indicator scores a high risk (83%). “PSM is particularly vulnerable to political influence. The analysis has shown that government has a significant influence on PSM governance given that it appoints members to both its Board of Directors and its Editorial board. The government also partially funds the PSM via a direct grant, which is transparent, but the amount of the grant is decided by the government at its own discretion.”

These indicators, and others, result in Malta scoring a medium risk (63%) when it comes to political independence.

The report also covers two other areas, with are market plurality and social inclusiveness, where Malta scored a 61% (medium risk) and 58% (medium risk) respectively.

In its conclusion, the report highlights how “the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia for years, had faced libel suits, intimidation, and death threats, starkly brought to light several structural issues that this EU Member State is facing, not solely in relation to media freedom and media pluralism, but more generally from a rule of law perspective. At the time of this report’s publication no light at all had been shed on who commissioned Caruana Galizia’s assassination. This situation alone is likely to have a lasting chilling effect on journalism and media freedom in Malta.”

With regard to Basic Protection, the law on the protection of whistleblowers should be amended to, further encourage the reporting of wrongdoing, abuse and corruption, and to ensure protection for all whistleblowers”, the report read.

“Journalists should themselves take steps to improve their self-organisation and self-regulation. Strong and efficient self-regulation is a precondition for professional independence, especially in such challenging times, when the working conditions of journalists are affected by the decay of the media business model and when professional practice is coming under strain in the context of the increasing power of digital platforms.”

The research for the MPM was based on a standardised questionnaire and apposite guidelines that were developed by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. The data collection for Malta was carried out centrally by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom team between August and December, 2017. A group of national experts was consulted to ensure accurate and reliable findings, and to review the answers to particularly evaluative questions.

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