Maltese journalists facing repeated harassment on social media, IGM says

Both the IGM and the government took issue with RWB claims that Maltese media was owned or controlled by political parties

The IGM said the repeated clearing of the memorial to Caruana Galizia by government officials did nothing to reassure the public and international community that the authorities are working to solve the case
The IGM said the repeated clearing of the memorial to Caruana Galizia by government officials did nothing to reassure the public and international community that the authorities are working to solve the case

Reactions to the hard-hitting demotion of Maltese press freedom by the French organisation Reporters Without Borders’ annual index came with a defence of Malta’s recently amended press laws from the government. 

RWB said abusive judicial proceedings “designed to gag investigative reporters by draining their financial resources” had dragged Malta down 12 places to 77th. 

But justice minister Owen Bonnici rebutted the claims, saying that in 2018 only 19 civil libel cases were filed, a mere third of the amount presented in 2017 (57) and just a quarter of the amount presented ten years back in 2008 (77). “This is indicative of the growing levels of freedom of journalistic expression,” Bonnici claimed. 

“Rather than rushing to the law courts, subjects of a story, especially politicians, should reach out to newsrooms and request a clarification when it is necessary,” the Institute of Maltese Journalists said in its reaction. “The recent MADA law instituted a preliminary mediation stage before parties further a defamation lawsuit: in this spirit, while journalists should seek to raise the standard of their work, defamation suits should not be used as a tool to subdue the press.” 

The IGM said it shared international concerns that with no indication of who commissioned the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese press remained burdened by the shadow of this murder. 

“IGM appreciates that police work cannot be rushed and that every effort must be made to build a strong case against potential suspects, but it also reminds authorities that the country can never get the closure it needs and deserves until the mastermind behind the murder is brought to justice. The institute appeals to authorities to speed up proceedings and ensure that the case is resolved as quickly as possible.” 

The IGM also said that while not explicitly stated, the repeated clearing of the memorial to Caruana Galizia by government officials did nothing to reassure the public and international community that the authorities are working to solve the case, even if this is the case. 

The IGM also said there journalists in Malta faced daily harassment online because of their work. “There have also been instances where both the government and the Opposition have named journalists in their rebuttal of stories, either through official statements or their party media. Making the journalist the subject of a story is in nobody’s interest and does nothing to address the facts in any report. Journalists also face repeated harassment on social media by partisan activists and also civil society actors who disagree with the work of our colleagues.” 

Both the IGM and the government took issue with RWB claims that Maltese media was owned or controlled by political parties. “The IGM does however share RWB’s concern at the financial challenges being faced by the independent media. Media organisations’ dependency on advertising revenue from government and big business is not a new development but is one that has been part of Malta’s media landscape and which has gone unnoticed for years, despite repeated meetings with international NGOs with editors and media owners.” 

In 2018 the new Media and Defamation Act abolished criminal libel, introduced the concept of mediation, and prohibited the multiplicity of libel lawsuits in Malta on the same journalistic report. The law added no new burdens in terms of civil libel damages. 

Bonnici said Malta did not object to an independent public inquiry into whether the homicide of Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented, “once that the current criminal inquiry and investigations are concluded. This stance is being taken on expert advice, both local and international, so that the pending criminal investigation is not adversely affected by another parallel public inquiry.” 

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