The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Media pluralism study: Political independence poses highest risk to Malta

Helena Grech Saturday, 10 March 2018, 10:01 Last update: about 3 years ago

A study seeking to assess the state of play for media pluralism and press freedom in Malta has found that political independence of the media is among the highest risk factors.

The wider study analyses media pluralism in 28 EU member states as well as Serbia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey with the support of a grant awarded by the European Union to the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) at the European University Institute.

Broadly, the study assesses four main areas: Basic Protection, Market Plurality, Political Independence and Social Inclusiveness.

Among the key findings for Malta, indicators posing a medium risk are made up of Political independence of media, Independence of Public Service Media governance and funding, Commercial and owner influence over editorial content, Cross-media concentration of ownership, Access to media for minorities, Access to media for people with disabilities and Media literacy.

Political independence of media was the risk indicator closest to reaching ‘High Risk status’.

“Political Independence area acquires a medium risk, but very close to high. Political parties are among key players in the media market, while the appointment procedures for the PBS and Broadcasting Authority do not guarantee independence from political influences. Editorial autonomy is not well protected, as the self-regulation is not effective and there are no legal mechanisms to ensure autonomy.”

An event was held on Friday evening at the University of Malta, organised by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) in cooperation with the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences (MaKS) within UoM.

In the key findings, it was found that “Malta is the only EU country that has such extensive media ownership by the political parties.”

“There are no safeguards to prevent political influence over the appointments of the board members of the Broadcasting Authority and the PBS. Editorial autonomy is not well protected, neither from political, nor from commercial influences.

“Self-regulation is not effective, the only professional association is perceived as inefficient. There is no specialized trade union representing journalists and taking care of their working conditions.

“Malta is one of few countries in Europe that to date have no policy on media literacy.”

Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

Providing some commentary on the key findings, in the area of Basic Protection, it was noted that this area poses a medium risk, “which is a cause for concern”.

The area “encompasses fundamental conditions needed to exercise journalism and freedom of expression. Most of the risk-increasing factors here relate to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia {chilling effect on freedom of expression), and to the deficiencies in the protection of journalists (criminalisation of defamation) and whistleblowers (deficiencies of the existing law).

Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered in a car bomb just metres away from her Bidnija residence on 16 October 2017.

Criminal defamation will be abolished under the proposed Media and Defamation Bill. It is currently in its second reading at Parliament and is now on track to reaching committee stage, before it may be passed into law.

In the area of market plurality, the study found that there is a medium risk on the basis that concentration of media ownership emerges “from the fact that the data on revenues are not collected by national authorities nor available from other sources which prevents thorough assessment”.

Social inclusiveness also registered a medium risk, mainly due to a concern about a lack of access to media for minorities, noting how Malta was strongly affected with an influx of migrants, “making immigration one of the most debated issues”.

“Since, there are no minorities recognised by the law, there are no legal safeguards to guarantee access to media. Furthermore, there is lack of research on media representation of different minorities and/or communities, particularly considering, for example, the representation of Muslim community in predominantly Roman Catholic society. Policy on access to media content by people with disabilities is only partly implemented. There is no comprehensive policy on media literacy.”

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