The Malta Independent 25 May 2019, Saturday

Government committed to ‘further strengthen freedom of speech, democracy, rule of law’

Thursday, 18 April 2019, 20:44 Last update: about 2 months ago

The government said this evening that it is committed to further strengthen freedom of speech, democracy and the rule of law.

Referring to the latest publication of the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, with Malta falling 12 places to 77th, the government said it wants to ensure that journalists in our country can work without hindrance and in all freedom, in accordance with the core values of a democratic society.

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On 14 May 2018, the Media and Defamation Act came into force - a new law regulating the freedom of the press and which amongst its various reforms in the sector: abolished criminal libel, introduced the concept of the ‘citizen journalist’, introduced the concept of mediation, introduced various provisions which strengthen freedom of the media and prohibited the multiplicity of libel lawsuits in Malta on the same journalistic report.

At the same time, the new law added no new burdens on journalists and owners of media houses in terms of civil libel damages.

During 2018 only 19 civil libel cases were filed, a mere third of the amount presented in 2017 (57) and just a quarter of the amount presented ten years back in 2008 (77). This is indicative of the growing levels of freedom of journalistic expression, the government said, not mentioning that the two years listed were both election years, usually associated with an increase of libel suits presented.

Concurrently the right for any person to safeguard his or her reputation within the parameters of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights has been kept. 

The report also criticises the fact that political parties in Malta own their own media outlets. The government stressed that this situation has been unchanged since 1994. Media houses, which are privately owned, also have all the journalistic freedom to scrutinise and criticise all that they deem appropriate, the government said. The “national broadcaster also plays an important role and studies show that the news services of the national station are reliable and respected”, the government said, without mentioning that PBS is often accused of partisan reporting and favouring the government.

The government said that in less than 50 days from the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, three Maltese nationals were charged with her murder and they are facing ongoing proceedings in Court. At the same time investigators, assisted by foreign investigative authorities such as the FBI, Europol, Interpol and the Netherlands Forensic Institute amongst others, have left no stone unturned in their quest to bring to Court any other persons involved in this murder. At the same time, an independent and autonomous magisterial inquiry presided by Magistrate Neville Camilleri is ongoing.

The government said that it has no objection for the launching of an independent public inquiry into whether the murder of Caruana Galizia could have been prevented, as is being requested, once that the current criminal inquiry and investigations are concluded. This stance is being taken on expert advice, both local and international, so that the pending criminal investigation is not adversely affected by another parallel public inquiry, the government said.

The government also referred to the issue of the possibility of having a multiplicity of libel lawsuits filed in foreign jurisdictions on media reports originating from Malta. It reiterates that it is in favour of any measure taken at European level which helps to safeguard freedom of expression in this sense.

This is a reformist government with a will and commitment to continue with the ongoing reform process in the justice sector started in 2013, the government said. This process has already led to the implementation of several laws and reforms: a law deleting time-barring by prescription on claims of corruption by holders of political offices, a party financing legislation, a whistle-blower protection act, a law limiting the power of the Attorney General in drug-related cases, a new Parliamentary mechanism on appointment of chairpersons of main regulatory authorities and non-career Ambassadors, and a law establishing the Bureau for Recovery Assets.

The government has already stated that this reform will continue and has already made it public that it will be implementing several proposals as discussed after the Venice Commission published its opinion on this sector.

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