[WATCH] PN warns registration of websites would stifle internet freedom

'The Internet is its own world and we must recognize that fact... citizen-owned websites cannot be placed on the same level as newspapers' – PN

PN MPs Clyde Puli and Mario de Marco and MEP Therese Comodini Cachia address a press conference. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
PN MPs Clyde Puli and Mario de Marco and MEP Therese Comodini Cachia address a press conference. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

PN warns registration of websites would stifle internet freedom from mediatoday on Vimeo.

The Nationalist Party has came out strongly against a proposal that would require the owners of news websites to register themselves as editors of that website with the government's media registrar.

"The truth is that the Internet is vastly different from newspapers, and that the dissemination of information online cannot be compared with information found on newspapers,” PN deputy leader Mario de Marco told a press conference. “The Internet is a world in and of itself and we must recognize that fact. We cannot use tools of the past to regulate realities of the present.”

News editors working for print or broadcast mediums are already obliged by law to register with the Department of Information’s Press Registry.

The draft Bill, up for consultation, proposes the additional registration of editors of news websites. The protection of sources before a court of law would apply for the registered editors and publishers and journalists in full-time or part-time basis. This proposal has registered opposition, with many arguing that the protection of sources should be available to everyone, including unregistered authors.

Click here for a copy of the draft Bill

De Marco warned that people who blog about current affairs should not be considered editors, arguing that this would equate them with traditional newspapers.

He added that the problem was exacerbated by the vagueness of the proposed legal definition of 'website', namely "any web-based news service or other web based services related to news or current affairs that operates from Malta or in respect of which editorial decisions are taken in Malta".

Moreover, he noted that the Malta IT Association has already compared the registration scheme to repressive laws introduced in China, Bangladesh and Russia.

Opposition MP Clyde Puli noted that people will have to pay a small fee to register their websites, which he described as “a tax on people who want to voice their opinions”.

Moreover, he criticised the proposed doubling in maximum penalties for libel to €20,000, on the grounds that such fines could cripple small media organisations.

Nationalist MEP Therese Comodini Cachia questioned why the government will abolish criminal libel, but at the same time not ensure that the pending criminal libel cases against journalists in court are dropped.

“This is proof of the hypocrisy of the government’s values. Why does it want to pick and choose for whom criminal libel applies?”

Earlier, the PN delegation to the European Parliament warned that the Bill posed “a serious threat to internet freedoms”. 

“The Labour Government is taking a page out of the play book of autocratic regimes with its proposed new media law that would require the registration of websites and limit protection offered to confidential sources,” MEPs David Casa, Roberta Metsola and Therese Comodini Cachia said.

The MEPs argued that the internet is a crucial medium for the freedom of expression and the government should stay out of it.

“Requiring websites to be registered with a government-appointed media registrar is a clear attempt by Joseph Muscat’s government to stifle dissent online. This is not the road Malta should be taking,” the MEPs said.

“Malta is experiencing an unprecedented level of corruption, intimidation and abuse of power with roots at the highest levels of government. This has led citizens and journalists to take to the internet to voice their opposition.”

Following the garnishee order which the Minister for Economy requested against blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Nationalist Party planned a demonstration for next Sunday.

The MEPs called on citizens to join in the protest, describing the proposed Media and Defamation Act as “worrying”.

“It’s time for the Maltese people to stand up and be counted and on Sunday the country will join together and speak out in a national protest in Valletta. Enough,” they said.