The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

TMID Editorial: A year on from the public inquiry: We won’t stop till the necessary changes are made

Saturday, 30 July 2022, 08:43 Last update: about 12 days ago

A year has now passed since the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death found that the state was responsible for creating an environment and culture of impunity which ultimately led to her murder.

With that conclusion, the public inquiry issued a raft of recommendations which focused on making amendments to the country’s criminal laws and on reforms which will lead to more protection for journalists and the media sector as a whole.  The inquiry also called on the state to apologise to the family.

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With a year now behind us, we can look at what has been implemented and what hasn’t with a bit more of a critical lens.

Firstly, we can start with what has been done so far.  Prime Minister Robert Abela did – in fact – apologise for the state’s shortcomings right after the report was published. 

But an apology, while it does count for something, is most effective when paired with tangible action to back it up.  Unfortunately in the past year we’ve seen, for instance, a journalist, in the form of Manuel Delia, plastered across a Labour Party billboard – vilification in the same manner which Daphne was subject to before her death.

While that is an isolated example, the general attitude on the part of the government towards journalists has not changed in the slightest.  The Prime Minister is yet to grant an interview to an independent media house, ministries still take ages to – or refuse to – answer questions, and it also appears that a lot of government ministers have become averse to interviews as well.

Something else which the government has done is to appoint a committee of media experts in order to assess legislative and constitutional amendments which it has drawn up pertaining to the journalism sector.

There has been criticism on the composition of the committee, and perhaps it would have been wise and more effective to include international experts who have offered their assistance in the process – but what counts will be the government’s response to whatever the committee recommends.

The legislative proposals on the journalism sector which have been published so far – mainly those which deal with SLAPP lawsuits – are a step in the right direction, feedback from international organisations such as Article 19 has been that the laws can go further than they have and offer more protection.

It would be wise for the government to take such feedback onboard and see where such laws can be improved.

Finally, we come to perhaps the most disappointing area which is related to changes in Malta’s criminal laws.

From a legislative perspective, the public inquiry board made a number of recommendations for new crimes to be introduced into Malta’s legal framework.

One such proposed legal change was to introduce ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ to combat financial crime such as bribery and corruption, while another is for a specific crime to be introduced for when people in a public position interfere with the work of the police and other authorities.

The board also recommended the introduction of a law similar to one in Italy for association with a mafia organisation, the introduction of the crime of abuse of office by a public official, and the introduction of the crime of obstruction of justice, similar to what other countries have in their laws.

A year has passed but none of these recommendations have been taken on board.  An effort by the Nationalist Party, where they tabled a tranche of laws to this end in Parliament, was shot down by the government, with Robert Abela arguing amongst other things that an anti-mafia law would recognise that Malta is a mafia state – an argument which defeats most forms of common logic.

We can only hope that the government is in the process of drafting its own legislations, in line with the recommendations by the inquiry board, to introduce these criminal offences and therefore help clamp down on high-level abuses.

Even though a year has now passed, we aren’t going to forget what happened and we certainly aren’t going to back down from calling for the implementation of all the measures within it – however long the road is.

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