House votes to approve second reading of Media Act

Minister Owen Bonnici welcomed the mainly constructive criticism the bill generated

Parliament tonight approved the second reading of the Media and Defamation Act, with 35 votes in favour and 29 against.

The Act will make it more difficult for anyone to win a libel case against a journalist but it also provided slightly greater reward if they did, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said in his rounding-up of the debate.

He said that the government had the courage to broaden the parameters of the right to free speech, particularly through the abolition of criminal libel.

Bonnici said the legislation would now protect journalists’ ‘honest opinion’ as well as fair comment, making it more difficult to prove libel.

But increasing the maximum fine applicable in the case of people found guilty of libel from €11,000 to €20,000 would also mean that anyone winning a libel case would be compensated adequately.

“Apart from unfounded criticism from some quarters, most feedback on this bill was quite valuable and welcome,” he said. “And I have to particularly thank the Institute of Maltese Journalists for their constructive criticism and their recommendations throughout this process.”