The PN said no debate on the newly proposed media laws should be held in parliament until proper and effective public consultation is held about the media sector in the country, the Opposition said in a statement on Saturday.
The Opposition said it was unacceptable for Justice Minister Jonathan Attard to steamroll over concerns and push forward laws despite objections from editors, journalists, academics and activists.
The PN backed the call for proper public consultation on the laws put forward by the government through a ‘media experts committee’ appointed by the prime minister.
Those on the committee signed non-disclosure agreements that kept everyone else in the dark on what was being proposed and discussed until a press conference on 27 September.
“It’s unacceptable… the proposed laws fall short of what’s needed and include a number of inconsistencies that cause concern. The laws were created in secret and show that the government intends to persist with the trend of stifling freedom of information,” the PN said.
The PN insisted the government should appreciate that public consultation is essential to increase transparency and accountability.
“The government should encourage participation, and it should hear the views of all those involved in the sector and others. It should be open to new ideas and proposals.”
The Opposition’s call falls in line with concerns expressed by the parents of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. They warned against a rushed process, saying their daughter and the country “deserve no less”.
The draft laws stem from the recommendations by the three judges on the public inquiry on Caruana Galizia’s murder. Yet the process adopted by the government is not in line with what was proposed, and concerns remain that the way forward chosen by the government will not lead to the required reform.
The PN also backed criticism on Friday by the ‘Media Initiative Group’ that the draft legislation “ignores international standards” and is “weak in substance”.
The Group noted how the draft laws fail to oblige public authorities to provide information was especially damning, they said, given the government’s apparent policy to favour non-disclosure.
The Group – composed of Monique Agius, Joe Borg, Therese Comidini Cachia, Manuel Delia and Natalino Fenech – said on Friday, “The draft legislation purported by the government to strengthen media freedom fails to bring about the required change and to establish an enabling environment for free (or independent) journalism.
“The draft legislation ignores international standards on press freedom, protection of journalists and the rights of the general public who are the real owners of the right of information.
“Worse still, the government decided to humiliate the Committee it set up by disregarding the most important proposals of the same committee. It threw out of the window the most significant 13 per cent of the Committee’s proposals.
“Government’s proposals are strong in whitewash but weak in substance.”