German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stopped in Valletta on Friday during this week’s Arraiolos Group meeting, hosted by the Maltese government, at the memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia where he paid tribute to the assassinated journalist.
Speaking of the working conditions of journalists around the world, he remarked, “We know that journalists everywhere are under threat and need protection. We must feel obliged to ensure this protection.”
The German President’s comments come as just as the topic of journalists’ protection is boiling over in Malta, with the government hastily pushing sensitive legislation dealing with the protection of journalists through parliament without any public consultation to speak of.
The new legislation, drawn up supposedly on the recommendations of the Public Board of Inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination, has been widely criticised, both domestically by the vast majority of the journalistic community and internationally by press freedom NGOs and formidable bodies such as the Council of Europe, as being rushed, severely lacking in public consultation, too weak and as having been watered down excessively from the board’s original recommendations.
The new legislation was, however, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, despite calls from far and wide for them to be opened up for public consultation before doing so.
It also comes as the Council of Europe itself is taking Prime Minister Robert Abela to task over the issue. Its Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović this week published correspondence between herself and Abela in which she asked him to open up the newly-proposed legislation on the media to public scrutiny.
In her letter, 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.
“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.”
It also comes as the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform expressed serious concern “over moves to pass anti-SLAPP legislation as part of a media reform package without adequate scrutiny from journalists and civil society” in an alert published on Friday.
In similar fashion, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová’s made it her first item of business upon her arrival in Malta on Wednesday for the meeting to lay a bouquet of flowers at a monument to Caruana Galizia in her hometown of Sliema.
“The work of journalists and media freedom is irreplaceable for the functioning of democracy. Journalists cannot become a target because of their work. For democracy to thrive, journalism is essential,” she said in Sliema on Wednesday evening.
““Even if it is sometimes difficult for us politicians to accept their outputs, the importance of their work goes beyond our interests or comfort.
“And it is doubly unacceptable to do so to cover your own mistakes and weaknesses.”