Media reform: 13% of committee proposals thrown out by government

A Media Reform Initiative group said that some of the committee's most important proposals were disregarded by government

13% of media reform proposals put forward by a government-appointed committee were not taken on by government, a new Media Reform Initiative group pointed out.

The group, composed of current and former journalists among others, said that government “humiliated” its own committee by disregarding 13% of its most significant proposals.

In the proposed reforms, government is including a Constitutional clause that recognises the freedom of the media while vowing to protect and promote freedom of the media for the protection of journalists and their sources.

“Although  these words are uplifting, the government does not properly entrench these principles by recognising the full set of rights that establish a free press and the corresponding obligations of the State in Chapter IV of the Constitution.”

The group pointed out that the declaration is not enforceable before a court of law, and does not give you or the press any claimable rights. “Had the government really wanted to recognize journalism as the fourth pillar of democracy it would have placed these provisions in section 41 of the Constitution and adopted at least the recommendations of its own Committee.”

It added that government left out the right to seek information in its constitutional amendments, disregarding the committee’s own proposals and the OSCE’s recommendations on media freedom.

“The Government refused to declare that public authorities have an obligation to provide access to information . This is a significant defect in the reform when one considers that currently there appears to be a government policy which favours non-disclosure of information held by public authorities rather than disclosure for transparency and accountability.”

Another proposal from the committee included a declaration of principle recognising the state’s obligation to promote the autonomy of the press and to provide an enabling environment to facilitate journalism.

The group said that the anti-SLAPP legislation proposed is weak, ambiguous, and burdensome.

“What Government is proposing does not meet international minimum standards for protection of persons engaged in public participation from manifestly unfounded and abusive proceedings. The Government’s proposals do not even reflect the minimum standards established in the proposed EU anti-SLAPP directive.”

“The proposed legal regime  leaves journalists and persons  engaged in public participation open to threats from several countries as well as to threats in Maltese proceedings. The proposals place heavy evidential, financial and procedural burdens on defendants which can be prohibitive.”

The group made a plea to government to accept the advice offered by international organisations and initiate a process of public consultation.

“Malta deserves to seize this opportunity to enact a robust and comprehensive legal regime to bring about effective press freedom and an enabling environment for journalists and other media actors.”

The Media Reform Initiative is composed of Newsbook journalist Monique Agius, former head of Church media Fr Joe Borg, human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, blogger Manuel Delia and former PBS head of news Natalino Fenech.