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Government mum on Malta’s failure to sign global media freedom pledge

Malta Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela addressing the Global Media Freedom Conference in London, July 2019.

The Maltese government has failed to sign a pledge by an international coalition of governments committing to taking action to improve media freedom and the safety of journalists at home and abroad.

The pledge was launched at the Global Conference for Media Freedom held in London in July, hosted by the UK and Canadian governments. It called on delegates to sign up to commit their countries to ensure “that those who violate or abuse the human rights that underpin media freedom – be they governments or private entities – are held to account”.

Malta’s Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela was among those addressing delegates at the conference and reassuring the audience of the country’s commitment to press freedom.  But Malta was not among the 32 members of the Media Freedom Coalition to sign the pledge.

Questions sent to the government to explain its failure to commit remained unanswered.

The pledge states that the coalition recognises that “journalists and media organisations are increasingly confronted in their vital work by restrictive laws, punitive legal measures, and physical violence,” and seeks to protect them through cross-border and intergovernmental cooperation.

The pledge notes that where journalists and media organisations are free to do their work safely, societies are more prosperous and more resilient through the exchange of views and information that allows communities to identify and pursue emerging opportunities and to recognise problems that must be addressed.

“Too often, it is governments that are the source of threats to media freedom. Governments, which are responsible for protecting human rights, instead violate them. Sometimes, governments target individual journalists or media outlets,” the pledge states.

The fact that Malta, Slovakia, and Albania have not signed the pledge was highlighted by Flutura Kusari, legal counsel at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. 

Kusari has visited Malta several times, most recently during October on the anniversary of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, to monitor the posthumous libel suits still pursued against the journalist by top government officials.

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović said during a meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament on Tuesday that it was outrageous that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was still suing the late journalist.

Mijatović was answering a question from PN MEP Roberta Metsola and it followed a letter she sent to Muscat in which the Commissioner had said the case had “a chilling effect on journalism”. The Prime Minister refused to drop the case.

EU Member States that have signed the pledge include Germany, Greece, Austria, Netherlands, Slovenia and France. 

Malta’s press freedom ranking fell 32 places in two years in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. Countries ranking lower than Malta in the index signed the global media freedom pledge, including Serbia, Ukraine, Lebanon and North Macedonia.

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