Reporters Without Borders sees government’s media legislation as ’far from sufficient’

The government’s rushed bills on protecting journalists and journalism pay no heed to access to information, transparency of funding or the independence of public broadcasting independence


The three long-awaited bills tabled in parliament on how the government deals with and protects the press are considered as “far from sufficient” by the Head of Reporters Without Borders’ EU and Balkans Desk Pavol Szalai.

Szalai has been in Malta over recent days as part of a joint mission of international NGOs who travelled to the country to advocate for press freedom reforms and to participate in commemorative events on today’s fifth anniversary of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Speaking to The Shift on Friday about the government’s somewhat shambolic rush of the media legislation through the parliamentary process, he said the problem was not only with the process itself but also with the bill’s content, or its lack thereof.

“These reforms are far from sufficient, there is nothing about access to information, nothing about funding, nothing on transparency of funding of the media and nothing about the independence of public broadcasting independence.”

Offers of technical assistance from RSF and other experts in the field, however, had consistently fallen on deaf ears.

As Szalai commented, “We offered the Prime Minister technical assistance at a meeting last year, and that offer is still on the table. We expect the government to be much more transparent, inclusive and ambitious in these reforms.”

“There are multiple problems with the government’s approach to these laws,” Szalai observed. “Transparency had been expected but the consultation process has not been conducted properly.”

He also underscores that timelines for the reforms’ implementation are needed, but observes how there are none to speak of in sight.

“The problem in Malta is that yes, justice has made progress but we need full justice. And this trial [of Caruana Galizia’s hit men on Friday] is an important step toward that full justice.”

‘I am sorry we have not seen that kind of tribute being paid by Maltese politicians, especially the government’

Asked for his opinion on the Maltese government’s general approach to the killing of journalists, after the Slovak and German presidents made it a point to pay their respects to Caruana Galizia at monuments to the slain journalist, respectively, in Sliema and Valletta, Szalai said, “I am sorry that we have not seen that kind of tribute being paid by the Maltese politicians, especially the government.”

Szalai recalled how Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová had been elected with a mandate to implement press freedom in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, archaeologist Martina Kušnírová.

“As a lawyer for NGOs she was also exposed to the pressures of Marian Kočner [the alleged mastermimnd], so the defence of the press is very much on her domestic and international agenda.

“I think that kind of voice is absolutely needed in the public discourse because we need politicians who will defend the press and journalists with their words but also with policies. In Slovakia, full justice still needs to be served and while the perpetrators have been convicted, the mastermind is still currently on appeal.”

Slovakia, he observed, has made progress in strengthening press freedom.

“The government tabled and the parliament approved laws to strengthen the confidentiality of sources and transparency of the media, while other positive bills are also being discussed.

“What is regrettable is that in Slovakia there are still verbal attacks on journalists, which we have also seen unfortunately coming from the government itself. That is why it is good that they have a president who systematically defends journalists when they are attacked.”

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová’s first item of business upon her arrival in Malta last week for the next day’s Arraiolos Group meeting was not a courtesy call on a politician or dignitary but, rather, a tribute to assassinated Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Čaputová laid a bouquet of flowers at a monument to Caruana Galizia in her hometown of Sliema, where she stressed that, “The work of journalists and media freedom is irreplaceable for the functioning of democracy.

In what can be construed as a not-so-veiled message to her fellow politicians and heads of government, Čaputová’ added, “It is unacceptable to target them [investigative journalists] with attacks that have no substantive or rational basis.

“And it is doubly unacceptable to do so to cover your own mistakes and weaknesses.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, similarly, stopped in Valletta during Arraiolos Group meeting at the memorial to Caruana Galizia where he paid tribute to the assassinated journalist.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Sandra Steins

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.”

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