Government agrees to calls for public consultation on media reform bill

Robert Abela said that a White Paper is to be published with regard to the media reform bill, despite not specifying a timeframe for the public consultation

Government had previously tabled three reform bills which were not subject to public consultation
Government had previously tabled three reform bills which were not subject to public consultation

Updated at 7:30pm with IGM reaction 

Government will hold a public consultation and publish a White Paper in relation to the media reform bill, Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced on Monday. 

Speaking in parliament, Abela stated that after calls for a White Paper with regards to the press experts committee’s recommendations to be published, he agreed that public participation is crucial in this matter. Calls for public consultation on the matter had been made by the Institute of Maltese Journalists, as well as a number of journalists and media organisations.

The press experts committee, consisting of academics and editors, was set up in January 2022, as recommended by the Public Inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Government has since received the committee’s feedback, but had refused to publish the report. Instead, it had unveiled three bills aimed at “reforming the sector”.

These bills were tabled in parliament without a public consultation beforehand, despite requests from newspaper editors and journalists.

On Monday, Abela said that after the White paper is published and the public consultation is closed, the bill will then pass through the usual parliamentary procedures.

From his end, Opposition’s Spokesperson for Justice, Karol Aquilina stated that he expects government to withdraw the draft media reform law from parliament, while noting that Abela gave no timeframe for the publication of the White paper. 

Aquilina also reiterated requests made public in September, where a group of media activists asked parliament to establish a select committee with the power to hear public testimony and contributions from media workers and representatives regarding the bill.

Media Reform Initiative reaction

Reacting to the news, the Media Reform Initiative, made up of journalists, editors, activists and academics, welcomed government's decision to publish the White Paper. 

The group noted that, "It's been 6 years since Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed and the context which enabled her killing remains unchanged today."

Here it was also highlighted that the legislation is only part of the reforms needed to prevent the suppression of free information.

"In the letter of September 13the editors, journalists, activists, and academics insisted that they expect the State to implement all the Public Inquiry recommendations and to do so in a holistic manner. This must include the recommendations on how to address impunity, corruption, and the abuse of power," the group said.

IĠM welcomes tabling of report

The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) welcomed the tabling of the report drafted by the Committee of Media Experts on Monday, as well as the Prime Minister’s agreement with issuing a White Paper on the media reforms.

“While we await the publication of this White Paper, we encourage all stakeholders to make their voice heard and participate in the consultation. The IĠM will analyse the committee’s report and work with journalists and editors to ensure that their interests are protected by the new laws,” it said.