Future of Maltese media at risk as journalists leave in droves, ‘scared’ to take up profession

Malta’s independent media sector is set to “die a death” due to a lack of new journalists and others leaving the profession, a situation exacerbated by a lack of funding, threats, pressure and influence against journalists, and fear, according to experts speaking at a conference on Friday.

Newsrooms in Malta are struggling with recruiting new journalists and retaining existing talent due to a range of challenges facing the sector, according to editors Caroline Muscat (The Shift) and Herman Grech (The Times of Malta).

This was one of the key points raised during the ‘Safeguarding Journalism and Media Pluralism in the EU’ conference, organised by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom of the European University Institute with the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Malta.

‘Help us find new journalists’

The Shift’s founder and editor in chief, Caroline Muscat, told attendees that she was struggling to find suitable candidates, and she called on the University of Malta to help.

“The University must help us train journalists. We cannot find them. It takes time to train them when we find them, but we are just not finding the people. We would really appreciate it if you could help us find a solution,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Times of Malta Editor-in-Chief Herman Grech, who said, “We are working with such minimal resources, I fear the media will die a national death.”

He continued that he is also struggling to find people willing to work in the industry. “I don’t know if it is young people not seeing journalism as a career or terrible money. Journalists ask why I would work for a media that gives me €20,000 when I can work in gaming for €40,000 for half the hours”.

Grech asked if this was the case for Malta’s oldest newsroom, “what is it like for the others?” pointing to smaller, younger newsrooms.

“Unless we sit down to see how to save the industry, it is not looking good… this means big actors will be able to act with impunity as no one is looking over their shoulder,” he said.

As for the main reasons journalists leave the industry, the stakeholders on the panel listed burnout due to long hours, trolling and harassment, low wages, and many “better alternatives”.

Gorg Mallia, Head of the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Malta, said there were plans in the pipeline to create a communications course that will see journalists major in journalism. Still, he said that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia puts “a spanner in the works”.

“A good 40% who wanted to be journalists don’t want to any more because they are scared,” he said, adding they will try to market journalism as much as possible, but he was not hopeful. “But it will not stop us trying.”

A sector plagued with issues

The problems discussed during the panel included struggles with funding, pressure from the government, vexatious legal suits against individuals and newsrooms, and total impunity for crimes against journalists, including Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Muscat highlighted the 40 strategic lawsuits against public participation The Shift faces from the government following Freedom of Information Requests filed with public institutions and departments.

She explained how the government was going against its own laws and decisions from the politically appointed Information Commissioner and the politically appointed tribunal in a stunning display of non-transparency.

“These are cases designed to exhaust newsroom resources and time, but we are winning despite everything. We are winning every single case so far,” Muscat said, adding that the judge has also shot down one of the government’s main excuses for refusing FoI requests – that “this document does not exist”.

But the government keeps ignoring the outcome. “This set a precedent. Such answers are no longer legitimate. But only last week we received that same reply on a Freedom of Information request. So what do you do? Let it go or fight back? Of course, we have to fight back in the public interest,” Muscat added.

SLAPP in the face

Muscat also called out Justice Minister Jonathan Attard for boasting in Brussels that Malta is at the forefront of anti-SLAPP legislation when the reality is that the country is good at box-ticking but fails at implementing.

Another key issue highlighted by Muscat is that of funding. While not against state funding and advertising, she said the process has to be transparent and independent as “this government has a history of wanting to silence the media.”

As for the Anti-SLAPP Directive currently being hotly debated between EU institutions, Muscat stressed the urgency of the situation as every day the law is not implemented is a day the media and journalists are at risk.

Also speaking at the event was Corinne Vella, the sister of murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia, who reiterated the urgency of the SLAPP legislation.

Lamenting that much of the talks were taking place behind closed doors, she said, “We do not know what is happening with the SLAPP directive, but if our own government doesn’t bring in effective legislation, we hope the EU will make it obligatory.”

She also noted that before her sister’s death, no journalist had been murdered in Europe for 25 years, but since then, there have been cases in Greece, Slovakia, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

“It is up to us to make a safe space for journalists,” she said.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola also addressed the event via video, reiterating her professional and personal support for the Anti-SLAPP directive, adding, “The new law should apply to as many SLAPP cases as possible.”

Lack of pluralism

In another panel, Louiselle Vassallo from the University of Malta went through the recent Media Pluralism Report for Malta, highlighting the main issues of concern.

Echoing the issues raised by panellists, she listed editorial autonomy, the independence of public media, funding both private and public, and the threat of SLAPPs.

She said that while many laws provide protection on paper, such as the Whistleblower Act, the right to freedom of information, and various other legal provisions, more needs to be implemented in practice.

“While there are many national issues the media face, there are many common issues shared across borders with EU member states. This makes them not national but European problems for which we need European solutions,” she said.

“We need EU instruments to be adopted in a strong form. The next step will be to ensure implementation,” she added.

                           

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4 Comments
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D M Briffa
D M Briffa
3 months ago

Like many people I have enormous respect for Malta’s genuine journalists. By that, I mean those who work for ToM, Malta Independent, Lovin Malta and The Shift, as well as bloggers such as Manuel Delia and Mark Camilleri. What troubles me is that we have to change the mindset of the majority, and make them realise that they have a moral duty, if they read these news portals, to make a financial contribution to their running costs. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

Jools Seizure
Jools Seizure
3 months ago

This must be music to the ears of the Labour Party. Another box ticked in its inexorable drive to secure 3rd world status for Malta.

wenzu
wenzu
3 months ago

Once again, employers complain about losing staff for, amongst other things, crappy salaries. NONE of ’em are prepared to offer a decent pay package commensurate with the other factors involved, to keep their people on board. If that IS their attitude, then tough s–t folks.

KLAUS
KLAUS
3 months ago

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard?

The so-called Justice Minister Jonathan Attard would be more appropriate, because he is not working for justice, he is just like his predecessor Owen Bonecci working against justice and against Maltese.

It’s just sad that such incompetent people with no backbone are put in far too big shoes.

Probably just so that one man’s drivel can continue. I am not sure if it is a plan of Josef Muscat or ROBBER Abela?
It’s absolutely pathetic.

Poor Malta.

Last edited 3 months ago by KLAUS

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