The committee appointed by the government to guide the public inquiry reform process should be independent, reflect the full range of expertise needed, and be chosen through transparent consultation with civil society, according to Reporters Without Borders’ International Campaign Director Rebecca Vincent.
Vincent was responding to a statement released by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation on Tuesday that stressed the need for the committee to guide the reform process to be “composed of members who have expertise in the role of journalism and press freedom in a democracy, who are impartial and independent, and who have the time to give the anticipated workload… and in a way that reflects the fundamental principles and objectives of reform.”
A key point at this crucial stage, which will determine whether Malta’s landmark public inquiry could indeed be a model for other countries. The committee must be independent, reflect the full range of expertise needed & be chosen through transparent consultation w/civil society. https://t.co/4KZ5aSov2W
— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) January 11, 2022
The reform, the Foundation said, should meet international standards. “The public inquiry report on Daphne’s assassination recognises press freedom as a pillar of a modern democracy and the need to create an enabling environment for independent journalism. It also recognises the need to address impunity, corruption and abuse of power. The process of reform is as important as its outcome.”
“An unsuitable committee would do more harm than good, and take Malta even farther away from its international obligations… Malta must emerge from this crisis stronger. It will only do so through a process of reform conducted with integrity.”
Vincent backed up the statement, adding that it is a “key point at this crucial stage, which will determine whether Malta’s landmark public inquiry could indeed be a model for other countries”.
Shortly after Vincent’s Tweet, the government published the list of committee members, which include Times of Malta assistant editor Matthew Xuereb, MaltaToday’s online editor Kurt Sansone and its founder and co-owner Saviour Balzan, media professor Carmen Sammut, editor in chief of The Malta Independent Neil Camilleri, criminology lecturer and researcher Professor Saviour Formosa, and lawyer Kevin Dingli.
The Shift is currently battling 30 FOI cases where government agencies and ministries are protecting Saviour Balzan, refusing to reveal the thousands paid to him for consultancy services, while he was acting as the owner of an independent news portal. The Shift already revealed that he received over €1 million.
The government gave them two months to give their comments on laws already sent, effectively giving them the task of rubberstamping laws already drafted. This is not what the panel of judges in the public inquiry recommended. The recommendation was to appoint a committee to propose legislation, not to review legislation already written by the government.
The committee of experts is also asked to submit feedback on another committee – the Committee for the Recommendation of Measures for the Protection of Journalists, Other Media Actors and Persons in Public Life – which has already started functioning even though this law has not been enacted. It is not clear why ‘journalists and other media actors’ are in the same bag as politicians.
NGO Repubblika reacted to the statement saying that it expects members appointed to the committee should publicly declare what they were paid from public funds in the last 20 years so the public can decide on their integrity and independence.
On Saturday, The Shift revealed that the Opposition was not consulted on the composition of the commission, despite the government claiming it had conducted a ‘broad consultation’. The Shift was excluded from the consultation despite having contributed to the public inquiry’s conclusions on the role political propaganda played in her assassination.