On reform laws being rushed through parliament, Council of Europe demands international standards are met

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner tells PM to ‘comply with international standards, engage journalists and civil society and ensure accountability and transparency at all stages’

 

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović has written to Prime Minister Robert Abela asking him to open up the newly-proposed legislation on reform following the recommendations of the public inquiry on journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination to public scrutiny and consultation.

Three new Bills dealing with the State’s processes with the media were tabled in parliament on Tuesday, despite calls for them to be open to public consultation before the government proceeded to rush them through parliament despite widespread condemnation by stakeholders.

Mijatović echoed those calls loud and clear and, to that effect, she published her mutual recent correspondence with Abela on the matter on Thursday –  correspondence that Prime Minister Robert Abela failed to make known to the public.

She said in an accompanying  statement, “The Maltese authorities must ensure that legislative work launched pursuant to the public inquiry report into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia complies with international standards and is fully open to public scrutiny and participation.”

But Justice Minister Jonathan Attard, himself a former journalist, on 28 September called a sudden press conference during which he presented the new Bills to journalists as a “historic reform”, despite criticism from editors, journalists and academics.

‘Comply with international standards, effectively engage civil society’

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatović has balked at the government’s unilateral approach toward drafting the legislation.

In her biting letter to Prime Minister Abela, she stressed it was necessary that Malta “comply with international standards, effectively engage civil society in the reform process and ensure accountability and transparency at all stages.

“Freedom of expression, including media freedom and the safety of journalists, is a prerequisite of any democratic society,” she reminded him.

“The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the lack of effective results in establishing accountability almost five years later and the above-mentioned vexatious lawsuits against her family and journalists in Malta show the urgency of strengthening the protection of media actors.”

She told Abela directly in her letter, “To this end, it is crucial that the government set out a plan with defined objectives and timings to implement the recommendations of the public inquiry report and communicate it clearly to the public.”

That was on 23 September, and five days later the draft bills were presented to the media as a fait accompli. Ignoring still further calls for consultation, the government gave them their first reading in parliament on Tuesday.

Mijatović said, “It is crucial to secure a broad public consultation to include the views of civil society and the journalism community in this legislative process. The Maltese authorities should seize this opportunity to adopt comprehensive legislation affording extensive protection to journalists.”

Underscoring the need to ensure accountability and transparency at all stages of the reform process, the Commissioner urged the government to “set out a plan with defined objectives and timings to implement the recommendations of the public inquiry report and communicate it clearly to the public”.

Abela insists ‘wide-ranging consultations’ held before drafting media laws

In a reply on 4 October, Abela insisted that the government, and he personally, had undertaken “wide-ranging consultations” before drafting the laws despite stakeholders, including international press freedom organisations, the Daphne Caruana Galizia family and over 100 editors, journalists and academics denying this was the case.

“Since your visit to Malta last October, I personally held meetings with several key stakeholders, including the family of the late Daphne Caruana Galizia and their legal representatives, the Institute of Maltese Journalists and members of international organisations, including Article 19.”

The Caruana Galizia family has denied such consultation has been held. And so did Article 19: “In our meetings with Robert Abela, free expression organisations repeatedly offered the Maltese government technical assistance and pushed for transparency and full consultation in this process. None of those offers was taken up, nor has there been transparency or meaningful consultation..”

Moreover, back in July, nine leading international press freedom organisations said of the press experts committee and those consultations: “The terms of reference for the committee fail to require that the committee is independent, made up of individuals of demonstrable integrity and expertise, and that it should have cross-societal support.

“The lack of transparency and consultation with which the committee has operated since receiving its terms of reference poses a major concern to its legitimacy.”

They added, “The committee has not met with civil society, media or journalists nor Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family. It has also refused to participate in conferences relating to media freedom in Malta.

“While it is understood that the prime minister was presented with the committee’s advice on his draft legislation and that the committee is continuing its work, the process it has opted to follow lacks transparency.”

                           
                           
                               
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Henry Pace
1 month ago

Vox clamantes in deserto. A voice in the desert

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