Garnishee order against Caruana Galizia not withdrawn, despite proposed changes to law - Beppe Fenech Adami

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami said that while the proposed law increased freedom of expression, a cabinet minister had, only a few months ago, frozen the assets of a journalist who has since been killed

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami
Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami yesterday accused the government of hypocrisy when presenting parliament with new press laws under which precautionary warrants would no longer apply to libel cases, while Economy Minister Chris Cardona had not yet withdrawn a garnishee order placed on late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

“What use is it removing precautionary warrants when only a few months ago, a Cabinet minister used one against a journalist,” said Fenech Adami.

In February, the court of magistrates had issued a garnishee order of €46,000 against Caruana Galizia over a series of stories written by the latter in which she accused Cardona of having visited a brothel while abroad on government business.

The MP was speaking in parliament, as the House continued the second reading of the media and defamation bill, where he said the Opposition could not vote against a law because it contained a number of positive provisions. However, this needed to be analysed within the context of a government which had “declared war” on journalists that chose to oppose it, insisting its behaviour was reminiscent of that of governments in Turkey or Russia.

“You have a lot of nice words on freedom of expression, and then at the same time, you have an organised system to orchestrate attacks against journalists,” he continued.

Fenech Adami accused the government of paying individuals from tax-payer money in order for them to “break journalists”.

He accused the government of doing everything it could to discredit Caruana Galizia, pointing to MP Glenn Bedingfield, who during the last legislature was an aide to the Prime Minister, while running a blog, which Fenech Adami said had published 67 articles about Caruana Galizia.

He stressed that such articles served to discredit the blogger among a large part of the population, and to create an environment where people felt they could comment on how happy they were that she had been killed. “This is what they were fed by Castille.”

Turning to OPM employee Neville Gafa, who had posted a picture of Caruana Galizia to social media on the eve of her death, Fenech Adami stressed that Gafa was a public official who should not be allowed to engage in such behaviour.

Finally he accused the government of using fake profiles influence public opinion on media comment boards and social media.

Speaking ahead of Fenech Adami, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the proposed law was part of the government’s broader strategy of strengthening the country’s democracy. He said that after strengthening the executive branch by following up on recommendations made by the Auditor General, strengthening the legislative branch by allowing parliament its own autonomy, and relinquishing its control over judicial appointments, it was now aiming to strengthen the fourth pillar of the country’s democracy – the media.

“When during the last legislature, we put forward changes to law through which we gave artists the liberty for them to express themselves there was significant criticism,” he said.

He said the government had been tested on a number of occasions and had always acted in the interest of the people’s freedom of expression.

The Prime Minister expressed his satisfaction at the fact that both sides of the house seemed to be in agreement on the majority of the provisions of the bill being debated, adding that the government would be willing to discuss a proposal by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina to increase the time limit after which relatives of a deceased individual were able to file for libel over defamation of their deceased relative.

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