Radical overhaul of libel law gives journalists more protection

New law will do away with criminal libel and offer protection of sources also to citizen journalists

Damages for libel cases have been retained as they are and protection of sources has been widened to cover citizen journalists in a new media law unveiled today.

The new law departs radically from the first controversial proposal put forward by the government in the last legislature.

Libel damages have been retained as they are today, rather than increased to €20,000 as initially proposed.

The draft law was presented to journalists this afternoon by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Education Minister Evarist Bartolo.

It will be published officially next week, Bonnici said, to allow for last minute changes that may be suggested by stakeholders.

The new Bill takes on board many of the suggestions made by media houses and civil rights groups in the wake of a public outcry to the first draft earlier this year.

Bartolo said the consultation process that followed the first draft was authentic and showed the government was ready to listen.

“It was an important message to send out to those who thought they could muzzle the media,” Bartolo said.

The new law will:

  • Remove criminal libel
  • Remove the obligation on editors, even newspaper editors, of registering with the government press registrar
  • Libel will be considered so if the words uttered cause ‘serious’ damage to a person’s reputation
  • Any changes to subsidiary regulations linked to the media law have to pass through Parliament not legal notice
  • Extend the protection of sources
  • The precautionary warrant of seizure will not apply to libel cases
  • All pending changes criminal libel cases will be struck off when the new law comes into force
  • Maximum damages have been retained at €11,640

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