Prime Minister Robert Abela’s decision to hide a report by a government-appointed media committee with recommendations on upcoming legislation for the protection of journalists confirms the government “still considers journalists as its enemy,” the Nationalist Party said in a press release on Monday.
The opposition said the report’s publication is insufficient, calling for a comprehensive public consultation ahead of any legislative process in parliament. It announced it would present a motion to set up a parliamentary committee for this purpose.
The statement was released ahead of a parliamentary session on Monday, during which the report concluded three months ago in June is expected to be finally published.
The government appointed the committee behind the report in January 2022 to provide recommendations on a set of ready-made legislative proposals presented following the conclusions of the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The statement, penned by MPs Karol Aquilina, Claudette Buttigieg and Graham Bencini, said: “Robert Abela and [Justice Minister] Jonathan Attard’s decision to hide the report… confirms that the government continues to consider journalists its enemy and continues to obstruct them from carrying out the responsibilities of their work.”
They said through the proposed parliamentary committee, “the parliament itself would be conducting a public consultation as is appropriate.”
The opposition also backed calls by journalists, editors, activists, international press freedom organisations and, more recently, the Institute of Maltese Journalists for the publication of a white paper “indicating clearly how the government intends to make sure the media and journalists will be protected and how the public will benefit from better rights to information.”
The Shift recently reported how journalists and civil society members are unhappy with the government’s handling of the long-promised media reform, raising concerns at a Friday meeting of rushed legislation that forgoes adequate public consultation and acts as a box-ticking exercise.
Last June, The Shift reported how the government-appointed ‘media experts’ committee disbanded after an extended 18-month term with practically no legislative changes introduced to support press freedom since its establishment.
Last month, The Shift revealed how committee members each received €18,000 in payments from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to complete their work.
The committee of ‘media experts’ comprises IGM president and Assistant Editor at The Times of Malta, Matthew Xuereb, Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan, Malta Today’s editor Kurt Sansone, The Malta Independent former Senior Editor Neil Camilleri, University Pro-Rector for Student & Staff Affairs Carmen Sammut, and Criminology professor Saviour Formosa.
It is chaired by Michael Mallia, a former judge who was one of three handling the public inquiry on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.