Caroline Muscat, co-founder and editor of The Shift News, spoke on threats to Maltese media freedom at the launch of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 World Press Freedom Index in London this morning.
Malta registered a drastic slip of 12 places in this year’s Index, a drop of 32 places since Joseph Muscat and the Malta Labour Party came to power in 2013.
The RSF Index is an annual evaluation of the state of journalism in 180 countries. This year’s report reveals an increase in serious and frequent acts of violence against journalists across the world, triggered by an “intense climate of fear.”
The situation has been exacerbated in a number of countries by political leaders who openly express hostility towards journalists.
Closed FB groups in Malta spread hostile threats to journalists amongst 60k members (pop of 420k) in aftermath of #DaphneCaruanaGalizia murder. Testimony from @carolinemuscat independent Maltese journalist #RSFINDEX
— suzannehfranks (@suzannehfranks) April 18, 2019
Muscat cited specific examples from Malta, including Facebook posts where government officials call investigative journalists “witches” who “deserve a few more bombs”.
These posts were exposed by a Shift News investigation into a network of closed Facebook groups where over 60,000 members, including Labour Party MPs and senior government officials, conspired to threaten journalists and whip up hatred towards those who criticise the ruling party.
#DaphneCaruanaGalizia: .@muscatcar says “No sign of progress; No faith in investigation” adds that government officials call investigative journalists “witches” that “deserves a few more bombs” in closed groups on #Facebook #RSFIndex #WorldPressFreedom pic.twitter.com/2JrlcVYbfA
— sophie (@sophie_nkay) April 18, 2019
Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for RSF, said that Maltese government officials continue to perpetuate “outrageous intimidation of journalists and activists”, adding that their failure to launch a full inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia showed “those that wish to use violence to silence critical voices will know they can get away with it.”
Caoilfhionn Gallagher, the British barrister engaged by the Caruana Galizia family in their legal action against the Maltese government, echoed Vincent’s sentiments, demanding an impartial inquiry into the murder.
Incredibly powerful, disturbing words from brilliant, brave @muscatcar @TheShiftNews. Sitting with @pcaruanagalizia, listening to Caroline outline lack of justice for #DaphneCaruanaGalizia & her family 18 months on,& poor state of press freedom in #Malta. An inquiry is essential. pic.twitter.com/g340KPv8d6
— Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC (@caoilfhionnanna) April 18, 2019
RSF cited 2018 as the deadliest year for journalists, with 80 deaths and 336 imprisoned.
Vincent expressed serious concerns over “the deteriorating global situation for freedom of expression and safety of journalists”, adding that 61% of journalists killed in the last 12 months were targeted because they were investigating corruption.
Vincent and Muscat were joined on the panel by award winning journalist and RSF Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu, who is facing up to 14 years in prison on charges relating to “terrorist propaganda” and “inciting crime” simply for doing his job.
Onderoglu explained how the judiciary is used by the government of Turkey for political purposes. “Anti-terrorism laws have been massively used against reporters and investigative journalists,” he said, adding that over 3000 articles were banned by the state in 2019 as part of a crackdown on freedom of expression.
The Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index was launched at the Bloomberg building in London this morning, with opening remarks by Marty Schenker, Chief Content Officer at Bloomberg News, and John Whittingdale MP. The panel was moderated by John Fraher, Senior Executive Editor at Bloomberg.