The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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IGM seeks withdrawal of ‘weak’ media bill, wants ‘meaningful consultation’

Monday, 10 October 2022, 09:23 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM) is requesting the withdrawal of the bills related to the media as presented by the government and is prepared to withdraw from the Committee of Experts unless a "meaningful consultation" exercise takes place to review the proposals.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the IGM's members on the committee - President Matthew Xuereb and Secretary General Kurt Sansone, said they are disappointed by the legislation on media protection put forward by the government after the Committee concluded its work on the first part of its remit. "We regret to note that the most salient recommendations made by the Committee were ignored or seriously watered down in the Bills presented by government," the letter read.

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Among these were the constitutional entrenchment of the media and journalism as the Fourth Pillar of democracy, and the proposed anti-SLAPP legislation, they said.

"We refer to your letter to the Human Rights Commissioner and to statements by Justice Minister Jonathan Attard where ample reference was made to the 'wide consultation carried out by the Committee of Experts' prior to drawing up the feedback to the laws you had drafted," the letter continued.

"The IGM regrets this narrative does not reflect what the Committee did. The Committee did not carry out any active consultation, except for a legal opinion from a legal expert. The Committee reviewed any feedback that reached it but no one else was consulted, also due to the tight deadline given for it to finish the first part of its remit," the letter read.

"We have consulted our members and others involved in the media sector, who we represent, and took note of their assessment of the proposed laws which your administration has presented in parliament. We concur that the changes are not bold enough and fall short of what we imagined could have been achieved for the protection of journalists and freedom of expression, five years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia."

"We have taken note of the serious criticism made by colleagues and people in the media sector about the bills. But there has also been criticism about the committee's own report, particularly when it comes to anti-SLAPP legislation, in light of recommendations made by the European Commission on SLAPPs in the EU, as well as other international organisations, among other things. Our colleagues in the media believe the proposals made by government do not offer the best possible protection to journalists and fail to create the necessary enabling environment."

"Given that the Maltese government wants to be among the first EU member states to enact anti-SLAPP legislation, it should be setting a gold standard free of ambiguity and providing a strong framework of protection. This is why we truly need an open consultation process. Government has a clear electoral mandate to recognise the media as the Fourth Pillar of democracy and we believe that this mandate should be fulfilled in the best way possible by having robust legislation that is agreeable to the very sector it is intended to protect."

"Following a discussion with our members, academics and others involved in the media, we demand that the bills are withdrawn, turned into a White Paper and formally opened up for the widest possible consultation with specified milestones. We are sure that consultation could lead to better laws, which will provide the necessary framework to protect journalists and create an enabling environment for freedom of expression to thrive."

If the government fails to open meaningful consultation, "we will have no option but to withdraw our participation from the Committee of Experts as we cannot continue backing legislation, which is weak and does not achieve the best possible result. Our actions should in no way be interpreted as reflecting badly on our colleagues on the Committee of Experts with whom we have worked well over the past months," the letter read.

"The IGM council will be meeting on Thursday 13 October to decide on the way forward."

In a statement posted on social media, the Daphne Foundation backed the Institute of Maltese Journalists' call for the government's draft 'media reform' bills to be withdrawn.

"For Malta's press to fulfill its democratic function, it must be truly free, independent, and robustly supported and protected. The draft bills the Minister for Justice distributed to the media at a press conference on 28th September were drafted covertly and cannot create the enabling environment for journalism that Malta needs," the foundation said. "We have repeatedly said that the process of instituting reform is as important as its outcome. We recall that the public inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne's murder found that the state must bear responsibility for her killing. By doing so the inquiry handed Malta a historic opportunity to transform itself from the country known for the bomb blast that took Daphne's life to a country recognised for its response to that trauma."

"The legislative work that should follow the public inquiry into Daphne's assassination must comply with international standards. We expect the process of reforms to be fully open to public scrutiny and participation, and to follow a clear timeline for the drastic cultural, political, and legislative reforms our country deserves," the foundation added.

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