Malta needs legislation criminalising violence against journalists - media freedom coalition

A coalition of international media freedom organisations has made written submissions to the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry

Journalists demonstrated in Valletta shortly after Daphne Caruana Galizia's murdered
Journalists demonstrated in Valletta shortly after Daphne Caruana Galizia's murdered

Malta needs legislation criminalising violence against journalists, a coalition of media freedom organisations has told the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

Journalists who face threats of violence must also be afforded precautionary interim protection, the coalition said in written submissions to the public inquiry.

The proposals are part of a raft of recommendations penned by Article 19 and supported by several other freedom of expression and media freedom organisations.

The coalition called on State officials and public figures to “immediately condemn” all past and future attacks on journalists.

It added that “concrete and effective” remedial action against public officials who openly verbally abuse and threaten journalists should be taken.

The recommendations call for the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, including the swift response to requests.

Article 19 said measures should be taken to address online harassment, threats and cyberattacks, and other illegal behaviour, including trolling, cyberstalking and hacking of e-mail and social media accounts, electronic storage, websites and mobile phones or other devices.

“Particular attention must be given to developing gender-specific responses to the online harassment, threats, abuse and violations of female journalists,” the organisation said.

It said that the inheritance of libel suits should be abolished on the grounds that the possibility of inheritance has a “potentially chilling effect” on journalists.

The group said national law should provide a mechanism enabling SLAPP-type suits that are filed to be dismissed at an early stage, before they become a major drain on the defendant's resources. 

It also called for the creation of an independent media authority, which would allow for the full inclusion of all journalists including those considered freelance or independent, and replace the existing Broadcasting Authority.

Article 19 said government should relinquish control over the issuing of press cards, whether directly or indirectly through any state authority and institute the practice of recognising national and international press cards issued by media, journalists' organisations, and free press NGOs.

The submission also details Malta’s international obligations to uphold freedom of expression, the threats Daphne Caruana Galizia faced during her lifetime and continuing threats to the safety of journalists in Malta.

“It is our hope that the evidence gathered by the public inquiry will prevent other journalists being killed in Malta and beyond,” the coalition said.