Justice Minister Jonathan Attard was a no-show at Wednesday’s long-awaited public consultation on the government’s bid to reform laws in the wake of the recommendations of the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Media experts committee’ chairman, retired Judge Michael Mallia, who had also chaired the public inquiry, said that Minister Attard had been invited to address the public consultation, but he did not come or send a representative in his stead.
The event was mainly seen as a case of the committee going through the motions expected of it as the government appears intent on ploughing ahead with its legislation, which was a heavily watered-down version of what the committee had recommended.
Mallia bemoaned the fact that the government appeared to be ignoring the committee’s work. He recalled how the committee’s first report had been delivered to the government last June, after which nothing was heard.
It was in September that the committee learned of the government’s intention to push ahead with the legislation without any public consultation to speak of. The government’s proposed legislation reflected very few of the most important points the committee had come up with.
Now, Mallia said on Wednesday, the committee was expected to undertake a public consultation.
“We were told to consult,” Mallia told those gathered for the public consultation, with an attendance of not more than 50 people, and very few journalists.
“Where it [the exercise] will go from here, I cannot say.”
The hall of the University’s Valletta Campus was mainly filled with students who were recognised by committee member, university lecturer Carmen Sammut – a handful of academics and an even smaller handful of journalists, which was perhaps symptomatic of the weight journalists are giving the committee’s work – overshadowed as it is by the government’s machinations.
It was a drab affair on Wednesday morning, with working representatives of the Maltese press corps few and far between. Nor was there a single representative of the government. Opposition MPs Karol Aquilina and Graham Bencini were present.
“Instead of a government that listens, we have a government that even ignores a ‘Committee of Experts’ that it set up itself,” they said in a statement after the lacklustre event that came up with no solutions or visible way forward – other than the government now having ticked the public consultation box so it can presumably now proceed with pushing the legislation through the House.
The public consultation was addressed, by video link, by European Federation of Journalists General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez, who took the government to task over its ham-fisted and hurried handling of the delicate legislation.
He described the government’s “wait and see attitude” toward the legislation, which was still in the making so many years after the assassination of Caruana Galizia, as “incredible”.
He recalled how he and representatives of other international press freedom NGOs met with Prime Minister Robert Abela a year and a half ago, who had promised action, but now some 18 months down the road, Gutiérrez said he is “amazed by the government’s lack of protectiveness”.
He suggested there may be “a clear and deliberate attempt” on the part of the government “not to legislate to strengthen the role of journalists as watchdogs protecting the citizens.”
He referred to the fact that, at present, the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of Journalists currently has 15 alerts about Malta, of which the government is so far addressing just seven, or less than half.
He observed how Malta was one of the worst performers when it comes to the area of media pluralism and rates along the same lines as Turkey, Poland and Hungary, according to an academic study commissioned by the European Commission.
“Democracy in Malta,” he remarked, “is in danger”.
But as long as the economy for this Government and it’s capitalist lackies is ok – it s
F u law and order !
Like his prime minister , he is a chicken.
This all just confirms once again that the PL is just paying lip service to reforms and they only go, if ever, just that far as it suits them in order to secure their own way of continuity.
What I find rather sad, for I am under no illusions when it comes to the PL and the PM, is the low attendance by journalists as this topic is at the heart of their work and concerns. They left it to be just another academic event and not showing up on such occasions is sending a wrong signal to the PLers who love it very much when the support for independent journalists is crumbling as it also means that they would just give in.
Curious enough, nearly one year ago, there was a public conference held by PEN Malta and it was also recorded on video, published on the PEN website on 24 Februar 2022. Interesting to watch and also to read the transcript of all who contributed to it. Not just journalists and representatives and activists from the whole civil society movement and the subject was just what this article is also about. Much talk, exchange of experiences, young female journalists telling about the ordeal they had to face when just simply doing their job. Various suggestions to improve the situation.
I am wondering, where are all these people who took part in this PEN public conference of last year today?
That distant sound of a cistern flushing was Joseph Muscat yanking the chain.
Well, at least it’s pretty much official now – journalists and birds have equal status in Malta.