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Updated | Busuttil pledges to remove garnishee orders against journalists

Simon Busuttil pledges to 'remove all gags on free expression' • Partit Demokratiku argues garnishee orders a worrying tactic to muzzle the press

Tim Diacono
9 February 2017, 9:40am
Last updated on 9 February 2017, 10:50am
Minister Chris Cardona (left) has filed a garnishee order against blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia
Minister Chris Cardona (left) has filed a garnishee order against blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has pledged to change the law so that courts will not be able to issue garnishee orders on journalists facing libel charges.

In a tweet, Busuttil said that a Nationalist government will “remove all gags on free expression”, including criminal libel and garnishee orders against journalists.

MediaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan welcomed Busuttil’s pledge to remove precautionary warrants, but also urged the PN leader to “strive to disassociate himself from gutter journalists” 

Busuttil's promise follows a similar call by the Partit Demokratiku, who argued that courts should not be allowed to issue garnishee orders on journalists facing libel charges.

“Whilst it is understandable that a precautionary warrant might be filed in commercial cases, it is totally unacceptable that a precautionary warrant be filed in libel cases,” PD deputy leader Anthony Buttigieg said. “Notwithstanding one's opinion of the journalist in question and whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the opinion or political views of a journalist, we should always defend free press. Muzzling or attempting to muzzle free press does not bode well in a modern, civilised society. Free press is one of the few checks and balances we still have in place.”

The new party’s statement comes a day after the Court of Magistrates issued a €46,000 garnishee order against Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, on the request of economy minister Chris Cardona who has filed at least three defamation cases against her.

Cardona was alleged by Caruana Galizia to have been witnessed inside a German brothel FKK Acapulco, in Velbert, outside Essen where he was on government business. Cardona has vehemently denied the allegation, which is as yet unverified.

"No matter your opinion of a journalist, no matter if you agree with them, their politics or opinions, if we do not defend the free press, our democracy will begin slipping down a very slippery slope,” Buttigieg said. “Daphne may be able to afford to have thousands of euros locked in her bank account for years. But what about less affluent journalists - be they pro-PN, pro-PL or independent?  This move will effectively muzzle them. With an emasculated opposition and a judiciary appointed in large part according to their political leanings, the free press is one of the few checks and balances we have left."

The PD also urged the government to abolish criminal libel and ensure that more than one magistrate is assigned to preside over libel cases.

"It is high time, that we take deeply evaluate and revamp our libel and defamation laws,” PD's Public Relations Officer Monique Agius said. "Such draconian laws have been used in the past and are still being used in the present to appease those who are willing to abuse of such laws.

“The removal of criminal libel was promised by this administration. Partit Demokratiku believes in the freedom of speech and has faith in journalistic checks and balances. Thus if government fails to deliver its promise, Partit Demokratiku intends to present a private member's bill.”