Media bills: Consultation should aim at a holistic, not piecemeal, reform – MRI

The Media Reform Initiative (MRI) notes with satisfaction that, following pressure made by the Institute of Maltese Journalists, the Council of Europe, various international organisations and over 100 journalists, editors and activists in Malta, the Prime Minister has conceded to stop the parliamentary debate on the proposed amendments to freedom of expression and the media, which amendments are seriously flawed.

MRI would particularly like to thank the President and the Secretary of the IGM, the only members of the committee put together by government, who stated publicly that if there is no public consultation to address the serious defects in the draft document, they would tender their resignation from the committee.

Adequate budget and human resources needed

It is a pity that the government did not have the foresight to publish a white paper or to organise public consultation on this matter, the group said in a statement. Indeed, government chose to throw the responsibility of the proceedings on the Committee. It will not be possible for this Committee to organise a fruitful consultation process unless it is given an adequate budget together with the necessary human resources.

The drafts tabled by government come nowhere near solving or alleviating the various legal problems faced by journalists. For this reason, too, the public consultation needs to be very widespread. This should include consultation not only with Maltese individuals and organisations but also with international ones who are specialised on these matters. Many have offered help to the Maltese government, help which, regrettably was declined.

MRI notes that this is a one-time opportunity to enable the legal framework in Malta to reach international levels, The reform must not be approached in a piecemeal fashion but must be undertaken holistically and thoroughly. Since the committee is made up of persons who are not employed to pilot this reform, experts should be commissioned to assist in the consultation which should be the first step towards a radical reform in the sector.

Stop questionnaire that would have left Daphne out

MRI exhorts the members of the IGM sitting on the government appointed committee to put a stop to a questionnaire, currently doing the rounds, among persons listed as journalists with the DOI, that is only persons whom the government considers to be journalists. That government chooses who can be considered a journalist or not is completely unacceptable in a democracy.

The Council of Europe defined a journalist as “any natural or legal person who regularly or professionally engages in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.” This wide definition of journalists was adopted by the Maltese Court.

The committee would be betraying free journalism in Malta if these definitions are ignored.

The decision to send the questionnaire only to those on the DOI list is more condemnable on this fifth anniversary of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. She who was recognised locally and internationally as an eminent journalist would not have received a copy, the statement said.