The Malta Independent 30 September 2022, Friday
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Letter calling for public consultation on bills pertaining to journalism sent to PM

Thursday, 22 September 2022, 14:54 Last update: about 7 days ago

A letter by journalists, academics, people in the media and others has been sent to the Prime Minister, calling on the government to hold a public consultation exercise on a number of bills being drafted pertaining to journalism and freedom of expression, as well as to publish a report by a Committee of Experts that examined those bills.

In January of this year, the government appointed a committee of experts on the media sector, which includes a number of members of the press, in fulfillment of one of the recommendations of the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

The committee had two remits. The first was to examine examine draft legislative amendments prepared by the government. These legal amendments dealt with the protection of journalists against SLAPP lawsuits, an amendment to the Criminal Code to provide for an increase in punishment for offences against a journalist attributable to the execution of the journalist's functions, an amendment to the Constitution on the right to freedom of expression to ensure that freedom and pluralism of the media and the importance of the role of journalists are respected, among others.

The committee had submitted its feedback report on these bills to the Prime Minister in June, but the government has yet to publish it.

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Thursday, journalists, people who work in broadcasting, academics, and people who value the constitutional right to freedom of expression, expressed their serious concern that, five years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, "the government has not subjected to free and open consultation, its proposals to strengthen journalism and freedom of expression."

The letter, signed by 103 people, incuding 11 editors, notes that they appreciate the government's public declarations to implement the public inquiry's recommendations, as well as that the government informed international free expression organisations that it intendeds to introduce reforms to protect journalism. "We were disappointed when we noted that you refused all their offers of technical and legal assistance that reflects their experience on similar reforms in other countries."

"We appreciated your appointing a committee of experts which included journalists. We were disappointed when we realised that you did not publish the committee's recommendations despite your promise to publish them immediately. We are informed that the government is at an advanced stage of preparing legal reforms on this subject. This is good. However, it is wrong that the government has not invited free and open dialogue about what these reforms should include," the letter reads.

"We do not understand how freedom of expression can be safeguarded by laws that are drafted in secret. Furthermore, without the active participation of members of the profession and, more importantly, of the public, the reforms will be drafted covertly and will not reflect the needs of society and, therefore, they cannot succeed. Without public consultation, we cannot have reforms that truly strengthen journalistic freedom. The absence of protection of journalists, the interference and abuses they face whenever, as is their role, they expose the abuse of power, are, above all, an attack on the right of every citizen in a democratic society to be informed about the behaviour of those in power."

"Every citizen has the right to participate in reforms which, supposedly, are aimed at protecting their fundamental rights. This is why we ask you to immediately publish the advice you have already received from the experts whom you appointed and, before you present any legal proposals to Parliament, to publish the government's intentions for open and effective public consultation."

Letter can be read here

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