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European journalists highlight Malta’s press freedom alerts in report

The European Federation of Journalists draws attention to press freedom issues in Malta in meeting with the European Commission.

Ricardo Gutiérrez

Five press freedom alerts reported to the Council of Europe related to journalists in Malta remain unresolved – an issue the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) raised in a report handed to the European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova last Friday.

Malta is one of two EU countries listed in the report as having a case of impunity for a journalist’s assassination, referring to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. 

The five active alerts refer also to the libel suits and warrants by former Economy Minister Chris Cardona against Caruana Galizia in February 2017, the December 2019 incident where journalists were locked inside the Office of the Prime Minister following a press conference, the cyber attack against The Shift in January 2019, and the intimidation by law firm Carter Ruck on Manuel Delia, John Sweeney and Carlo Bonini in October 2019.

The five cases are among 178 listed as occurring between 2015 and 2019 on the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the safety and protection of journalists. The report was handed to Jourova by EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutierrez. The EFJ is the largest organisation of journalists in Europe.

In comments to The Shift, Gutierrez said these figures revealed a strong and fast deterioration of media freedom in the EU. “Jourova explained how the Commission will implement a coherent and coordinated strategy to improve the situation, based not only on her office but also on some other EU Commissioners.”

“From my point of view, for the first time, the EU Commission appears to have a consistent approach to media issues, journalists’ safety and journalists’ working conditions,” Gutierrez added, saying the positive reaction was a good sign.

Malta goes down in the report as one of the two countries in the EU with a ‘case of impunity for murder’. The other country listed is the UK, where Irish journalist Martin O’Hagan was killed by the Loyalist Volunteer Force in 2001.

Between 2015 and 2019, Malta had six active alerts. Only one was marked as resolved, linked to the Malta Financial Services Authority’s request to disclose journalistic sources in December 2018. 

The Maltese government sent replies to four out of the six alerts.

CoE’s unresolved active alerts 2015-2019

During this period, 26 journalists were killed and 109 journalists are currently in detention.  Over 600 serious press freedom violations have been reported in 39 countries.

The International Federation of Journalists’ (IFJ) annual report showed the number of cases of impunity for the murder of journalists in Europe is on the rise.

Out of a total of 262 alerts from EU Member States, 121 were cases of other threats having chilling effects on media freedom (46%), 65 were harassment and intimidation (25%), 61 were attacks on physical safety (23%), 11 cases of detention and imprisonment (0.4%) and four cases of impunity (0.1%).

The UK is the only European country holding a journalist under arbitrary detention. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is at a high-security prison facing extradition to the US and criminal prosecution under the US Espionage Act.

Last month, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) adopted a resolution calling on Member States to remedy quickly and effectively any threats to media freedom.

Members called on Council of Europe bodies, including the Assembly, to keep advocating the development of a safe environment for journalists and other media players in all European countries and beyond, and to make use of all their leverage “to prompt Member States to remedy quickly and effectively any threats to media freedom”, urging support for the reforms required to achieve this aim.

Malta was among the countries – together with Azerbaijan, Hungary, the Russian Federation and Turkey – listed by the Assembly with a “particularly worrying” situation regarding press freedom and media safety.

The Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists aims to improve journalists’ protection and better address threats and violence against media professionals. The alert system allows the Council to take action when necessary.

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