The Malta Independent 30 July 2021, Friday

Gag order unjustified, not in public interest – NGO

Friday, 18 June 2021, 12:04 Last update: about 2 months ago

PEN Malta labelled a gagging order on the media by the courts as “illogical and disturbing”.

"PEN Malta finds the ruling by Magistrate Rachel Montebello on an application by lawyers for Mr Yorgen Fenech illogical and disturbing,” the NGO said.

It was referring to a ruling  on an application by Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers seeking action for contempt against a Times of Malta journalist. Fenech is accused with being a mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.


"We understand the right of everyone accused of a crime to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. We also understand that it is the duty of the court to protect the accused from prejudice and their right to a fair hearing," the statement, signed by president Immanuel Mifsud, said.

"Magistrate Montebello’s ruling found that Times of Malta’s reporting about conversations between Yorgen Fenech and Anton Attard did not prejudice Yorgen Fenech’s right to a fair hearing or the respect of the presumption of innocence of the crimes he stands accused of. She did however reiterate that the reporting amounted to a breach of the ban she has ordered and must not be repeated.

"A gagging order on matters that do not prejudice the ongoing proceedings against Yorgen Fenech is not justified,” PEN said.

"On the other hand we are disturbed that the magistrate saw fit to rule Times of Malta’s reporting as 'not in the public interest'. Even if the matter was controversial, which it isn’t because evidence of the use of public funds to fix betting odds is by any standard in the public interest, the magistrate has no role in making such a determination.”

PEN Malta called for the respect of journalistic freedom, not merely in the interest of the people who exercise that profession, but more importantly because of the public’s right to know what journalists find out about wrongdoing in their democracy.

The application of the gagging order would have meant that past stories sourced from the records of Mr Fenech’s phone conversations – that led to resignations and material consequences in public institutions – would have been kept from the public’s view.

"This would have been manifestly not in the public interest. We call upon the courts to ensure that in the exercise of their duty to protect, as they should, the rights of all people accused of crimes, they also recall, at all times, the right of the public to be informed of corruption, collusion and wrongdoing in public institutions."


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