Press experts’ committee set up, will review draft laws prepared by government to strengthen protection of journalists

Judge Michael Mallia to chair committee of academics and editors in far-reaching reforms to Media and Defamation Act

Judge Michael Mallia. Photo: Ray Attard
Judge Michael Mallia. Photo: Ray Attard

Updated at 5:30pm with PN reaction

Judge Michael Mallia will chair a committee of experts to analyse the state of journalism and the media sector in Malta.

The committee has been set up as recommended by the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which Mallia also chaired.

The committee is composed of Matthew Xuereb, assistant editor of the Times of Malta and is President of the Institute for Maltese Journalists; Kurt Sansone, online editor of MaltaToday and is IGM secretary-general; media expert Prof. Carmen Sammut; former Malta Press Ethics Commission chair and lawyer Kevin Dingli; Mediatoday owner Saviour Balzan; Malta Independent editor-in-chief Neil Camilleri; and criminologist Prof. Saviour Formosa.

The Committee of Experts has a one-year term. However, it has been asked to provide feedback in the next two months on several draft laws prepared by government to strengthen the protection of journalists.

Once the committee concludes its work, the report will be presented to the Prime Minister, who will be bound to table a copy thereof in Parliament in 10 days.

One of the first tasks of the committee is to examine the draft legislative amendments prepared by government following consultations carried out with key stakeholders.

The legislative amendments submitted to the committee includes:

  • an amendment on the protection of journalists against strategic lawsuits against public participation – an anti-SLAPP provision – to minimise any undue financial burden on the defendant, and limit the execution of the judgment;
  • an amendment to the Media and Defamation Act which addresses the situation where an author or an editor dies when civil proceedings for defamation have been commenced against the author or editor, or may be commenced or continued against the heirs;
  • 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;
  • a proposed amendment to provide that in actions for defamation filed in terms of the Media and Defamation Act, payment of Court Registry fees will not be due upon the filing of the reply by the defendant but when the final judgment is delivered and only when the case is decided against the defendant;
  • an amendment to Article 41 of 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;
  • a Committee for the Recommendation of Measures for the Protection of Journalists, Other Media Actors and Persons in Public Life, composed of the Commissioner of Police as Chairperson of the Committee, the Head of the Malta Security Service and the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta, has already started functioning: this committee’s task is to decide on measures to manage identified risks, to prepare a security plan, to provide necessary protection to journalists and other media actors and to provide the necessary protection for persons in public life. The proposed amendments will provide a legal basis for the committee.

PN says proposals are 'just a drop in the ocean'

The Nationalist Party welcomed the appointment of the committee but insisted government's proposed legislative changes are "just a drop in the ocean".

"It is a weak reaction to the wide-ranging Bill put forward by PN leader Bernard Grech," the PN said. It noted that the draft legislation put forward by the Prime Minister contained no concrete proposals to fight institutionalised corruption, address issues of obstruction of justice, curb government abuse during the electoral campaign, make mafia-style criminal association a crime and anchor the right to media freedom in the Constitution.

"This is a very small step of a government that panicked in the wake of the Opposition's Bill. Six months since the conclusions of the public inquiry, it was only after the Opposition leader presented a wide-ranging Bill that government reacted," the PN said.

It called on the Prime Minister to support the Opposition's Bill and proceed to discuss it immediately in parliament.

Repubblika casts doubt on independence of 'some' members

Rule of law NGO Repubblika said some members on the board had the credentials to give a positive contribution, "some" members did not have the required independence from government and were not loyal to the public interes and the journalistic profession.The NGO said it was refraining, for the time being, from commenting on the individual board members but expected them to publicly declare what money they received from government over the past 20 years so that the public would be able to judge the advice they give.


Repubblika said it was disappointed that no foreign experts and Maltese experts of integrity were appointed to this committee.