Reporters Without Borders have reacted strongly to journalist Caroline Muscat being refused access to Republic Day events on Friday, saying it was “an attack on press freedom”.
The Shift News founder was denied access on the grounds that only journalists having a press card issued by the government’s Department of Information could apply for access to Republic Day events – access would then be decided by the Office of the President.
Pauline Ades-Mevel, Reporters Without Borders Head of EU Desk, said: “Given the political context in Malta and the wide interest of journalists from all over the world for local issues, not letting journalists holding an international press card on grounds that they first need to have national press cards approved by the government is nonsense.”
The Council of Europe report on Malta referred to this problem saying it had “a chilling effect” on journalism, resulting from the arbitrary use of administrative measures such as registration and accreditation schemes for journalists, bloggers, internet users, and foreign correspondents in order to harass journalists and other media actors or to frustrate their ability to contribute effectively to public debate.
Referring to the denial of access to The Shift’s journalist and founder, who holds an international press card, Reporters Without Borders said this was an unacceptable attack on press freedom.
“Reporters Without Borders sees it as an attack on press freedom in a country that is currently in turmoil because of allegations of corruption at the heart of government, linked even to the assassination of a journalist. It adds to press freedom concerns in the country when journalists are excluded from activities at a time when answers are demanded in the public interest,” Ades-Mevel said. “This is unacceptable.”
Muscat was awarded the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award for Independence this year for her reporting for The Shift.
Since the Labour Party came into power in 2013, Malta’s press freedom ranking has plummeted a staggering 32 places, ranked 45 in 2013 to 77 in 2019.
The Council of Europe says Member States must exercise vigilance to ensure that legislation and sanctions are not applied in a discriminatory or arbitrary fashion against journalists and other media actors. They should also take the necessary legislative and/or other measures to prevent the frivolous, vexatious or malicious use of the law and legal process to intimidate and silence journalists and other media actors.
Member States should take into account the specific nature and democratic value of the role played by journalists and other media actors in particular contexts, such as in times of crisis, during election periods, at public demonstrations and in conflict zones, the Council of Europe adds. In these contexts, in particular, it is important for law enforcement authorities to respect the role of journalists and other media actors covering demonstrations and other events.
The recommendation by the Council of Europe states: “Press or union cards, relevant accreditation and journalistic insignia should be accepted by State authorities as journalistic credentials, and where it is not possible for journalists or other media actors to produce professional documentation, every possible effort should be made by State authorities to ascertain their status.”