Government backtracks on registration of news websites

Changes to proposed Media Law will see protection of sources extended to everyone carrying out an act of journalism 

The government has decided to scrap a proposal that would have required news websites to be registered with a media register.

This decision was announced by justice minister Owen Bonnici and education minister Evarist Bartolo during a question-and-answer session on the Media Bill on Friday afternoon, organised by the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM).

The ministers also announced that, in so far as traditional media is concerned, the registration of editors and publishers with the Media Registrar will now be purely voluntary.

The legal protection of sources, which was previously only envisaged for newspapers, broadcasting services and websites registered with the Media Registrar, has now been extended to anyone carrying out acts of journalism.

Bonnici, reacting after comments from journalists, did not exclude that the government could keep civil libel cases under the jurisdiction of the Court of Magistrates, with a maximum €15,000 fine – up from the current €11,000. The current Media Bill is proposing the increase of maximum libel fines to €20,000, meaning that they will be presided over by a judge.

The Nationalist Party had condemned the proposal for news websites owners to register themselves as a move that would stifle internet freedom. 

The proposed Media Law will introduce a raft of changes to the current press laws – including the abolishment of criminal libel, and the introduction of mediation as a preliminary to court action.