Journalists and civil society members are unhappy with the government’s handling of the long-promised media reform, raising concerns at a meeting on Friday of rushed legislation that forgoes adequate public consultation and acts as a box-ticking exercise.
The meeting on Friday was attended by editors, journalists and civil society activists to discuss upcoming legislation to enhance media freedom and transparency, but attendees said the process so far has been opaque and done in bad faith.
Following the inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese government were called on to make swift and serious reform to the media sector.
But journalists on Friday said that the disabling environment described by the public inquiry still exists, suggesting a lack of faith that possible reform could bring any meaningful change.
In April 2022, the Media Experts Committee, appointed by Abela the previous January, completed an initial report reviewing the government’s ready-made legislative reform proposals for the media sector.
Abela breached his own terms of reference for the committee, failing to publish it before the 2022 summer recess. When it was finally published in late September 2022, it prompted a backlash, which led Abela to halt the introduction of the media reform proposals until the committee could conduct further consultation and produce a second report.
That second report, completed last June, has not yet been released.
The Shift previously reported that this month’s petition for the publication of the committee report is the second sent to the prime minister in a year, with a similar call made in September 2022 falling on deaf ears.
The Shift has since revealed that committee members have made €18,000 each since their appointment, a number reached due to the extension of their mandate and the drafting of a second report.
Report set to see the light of day
In parliament next week, the government is expected to table the long-awaited second report, which has so far remained hidden despite multiple calls for publication from local and international media organisations and journalists.
It is expected to contain recommendations on the ready-made draft legislation that the government presented to the committee in January 2022.
But journalists’ trust in the process is low, with some stating at the meeting on Friday that the public inquiry’s recommendations for curbing corruption and improving the journalistic sector were far from being implemented.
The government’s proposed media reform is only expected to address a few of the inquiry’s less salient recommendations, they said, adding that underlying issues such as lack of government transparency, corruption and impunity would still exist.
Hours before the meeting was scheduled to start, the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) issued a press statement announcing its decision to publish the ‘Media Experts Committee’ report in full unless the government tables it once parliament reconvenes on Monday.
The IĠM also “resolved to back calls by editors, journalists, columnists, researchers and activists to open proposals to reform Maltese media laws to public consultation in the form of a White Paper.”
IĠM President, the Times of Malta’s Matthew Xuereb and Secretary, Malta Today’s Kurt Sansone, form part of the government-appointed committee.
The committee is led by former Judge Michael Mallia, with Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan, The Malta Independent former senior editor Neil Camilleri, University Pro-Rector for Student & Staff Affairs Carmen Sammut and Criminology professor Saviour Formosa serving as its other members.
The members of the committee were not present at the meeting on Friday.