A government plan to reform media laws it described as “historic” has been branded a threat to media freedom by a European body.
The Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists has expressed concern about three bills submitted to the Maltese parliament this week, saying they did not meet the recommended standards to protect the media and its work.
The platform forms part of the Council of Europe’s efforts to combat misinformation and threats to independent media. It publishes warnings from across the member states of the Council of Europe related to media freedom.
It is classified the Maltese legislation as a level 2 state-led threat that has a chilling effect on media freedom.
It is the second active alert related to Malta, with the other related to an election campaign billboard of the Labor Party featuring the blogger Manuel Delia.
Justice Minister Jonathan Attard tabled the three media reform bills in parliament on Tuesday, despite widespread pressure on him to open the bills to public consultation.
Attard claimed that the government had already consulted on the legislation through a committee of experts he appointed.
The drafts propose a range of changes in local media laws, from the addition of references to freedom of the press in Malta’s constitution to the introduction of a number of legislative changes intended to protect the journalists and the media from vexatious lawsuits, or strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs).
But experts from within the media and legal sectors have warned that the anti-SLAPP measures fall short of best practice and leave wide gaps that leave journalists exposed.
According to the platform, Malta’s proposals “do not seem to incorporate recommendations to strengthen the legislation and reflect international standards issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and freedom organizations of the media after consultations according to the [Daphne Caruana Galizia] public inquiry report.”
He noted that the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, urged Prime Minister Robert Abela to ensure that any legal changes resulting from the Daphne inquiry are “fully open to scrutiny and the -public participation”.
Mijatović went public with that request on Thursday.
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