Press Bills to be presented to House, Caruana Galizia parents call for public consultation

Caruana Galizia parents say ‘Malta must redeem itself by reversing the conditions that enabled our daughter’s assassination’

Rose Marie and Michael Vella seen here at one of the vigils memorialising their daughter Daphne Caruana Galizia
Rose Marie and Michael Vella seen here at one of the vigils memorialising their daughter Daphne Caruana Galizia

The minister for justice will be presenting the report drawn up by a government-appointed committee to analyse the state of journalism in Malta, with a set of laws proposed by the State on the media.

The press conference will start at 2pm.

The laws, which are expected to include the feedback of the committee led by retired judge Michael Mallia, will not be presented for public consultation as requested in a letter to the Prime Minister by newspaper editors and journalists.

Justice minister Jonathan Attard
Justice minister Jonathan Attard

Instead, the laws will be presented in the House where any amendments will be discussed at committee stage. However, it is clear that any proposals from the Opposition will be hard to advance at committee.

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

In a letter signed last week by over 100 editors, journalists, academics, artists and others, Prime Minister Robert Abela was asked “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.” 

The parents of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Michael and Rose Marie Vella, today also issued a statement backing the call for a transparent and fully open process of reform.

“It is disturbing that, despite the findings of the state-appointed public inquiry into the circumstances of our daughter Daphne’s assassination - the reason why reforms are crucial - the government has to be reminded that ‘every citizen has the right to participate in reforms which, supposedly, are aimed at protecting their fundamental rights’,” the Vellas said.

“Nothing will ever bring our daughter back, but Malta has an opportunity to redeem itself for its failure to protect her life by reversing the conditions that made her murder possible.”

The Vellas said the government would not achieve this presenting the legislation to parliament before it has thoroughly passed the test of public scrutiny and consultation. 

“Reforms should be implemented transparently, preceded by a period of public consultation that should not be rushed for the sake of political expediency. Our daughter - and our country - deserve no less.”

Press committee

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

The legislative amendments submitted to the committee include:

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.

While the PN had welcomed the appointment of the committee, it has itself pushed for a wide-ranging Bill to also 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.