[WATCH] Prime Minister non-committal on calls to withdraw media reform Bills

Robert Abela says he will respond to IĠM’s letter requesting that he withdraw media reform legislation and open public consultation on the Bills

Robert Abela at the Cabinet meeting in Dingli
Robert Abela at the Cabinet meeting in Dingli

Prime Minister Robert Abela was non-committal on calls for his government to withdraw a set of media reform Bills and submit them to a consultation process.

The Prime Minister said he will be replying to a letter he received from the Institute of Maltese Journalists earlier this week calling for the Bills to be withdrawn.

Taking questions from reporters after a special Cabinet meeting held at the Dingli secondary school, Abela would not comment on the request, insisting he will be writing back to the IĠM.

On Monday, Matthew Xuereb and Kurt Sansone, president and general secretary of the IĠM respectively, wrote to Abela to express disappointment with the Bills government put forward and threatened to resign from the government-appointed Media Experts Committee.

The IĠM officials said “the most salient recommendations made by the Committee were ignored or seriously watered down” in the Bills presented by government.

They called for the Bills to be withdrawn, turned into a White Paper and formally opened up for the widest possible consultation with specified milestones.

The IĠM’s position echoes that of other journalist lobby groups, international media freedom NGOs and the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Abela said his government has had cordial relations with IĠM and the intention is to continue this way.

Government has presented the First Reading in parliament and published the proposed Bills in the Government Gazette, paving the way for the Second Reading in parliament to start.

Meanwhile, the Opposition said it will be holding its own consultation on the proposals and insisted that no parliamentary process should start before a proper consultation exercise is carried out.

The Media Experts Committee set up at the beginning of the year in line with a recommendation made by the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, was given two months to conclude a review of the Bills that government had drafted to strengthen the protection of journalists.

The feedback was delivered on 1 June and government took up 87% of the Committee’s suggestions, leaving out, however, some of the more important recommendations.

The proposed laws include constitutional changes to entrench journalism as the Fourth Pillar of democracy and anti-SLAPP legislation.

However, the IĠM believes the Bills tabled by government are not bold enough.