Concerns on press freedom in Malta sustained in new report

Access to information remains a pressing concern in Malta, according to the Media Pluralism report published on Thursday, which says the difficulty in accessing information on matters of public interest, such as public spending, is testament to the culture of secrecy and lack of transparency.

The report published by the European University Institute considers legal, political, and economic variables relevant to analysing the levels of media pluralism in a democratic society. On most levels, Malta’s ranking shows further deterioration in the country’s media landscape.

The usual problems dominate: media ownership by the political parties, PBS’ status as a state broadcaster delivering propaganda rather than one working in the public interest, and the lack of transparency of money flows between the government, the media sector and private businesses.

The Shift stands out in the report for its transparency in financing and its policy of not accepting funding from political parties while the media they control fail to even submit audited accounts as required by law.

“The Shift News, an investigative website, has retained a high degree of transparency, publishing its revenues and declaring that it does not accept political funding. Meanwhile, media companies owned by political parties (One Productions and Media.Link) have failed to even submit audited accounts to the Malta Business Registry for years and face no sanctions,” the report states.

The score

Overall, the assessment for 2023 show Malta fared worse than the previous assessment.

  • The risks to media pluralism Malta is situated on the borderline between medium and high risk for media pluralism.
  • The Protection against Disinformation and Hate Speech indicator has decreased to 65%
  • The Right to Information has a high-risk score of 77%.
  • The Fundamental Protection indicator is now 37% – six percentage points higher than in MPM2023.
  • Protection of Freedom of Expression is at 28% — 10 percentage points higher than in MPM2023.
  • The Political Independence area risk score inched upwards by one percentage point and is currently 94%.
  • Media plurality is at high risk – 74%.
  • The Editorial Autonomy indicator scores 88% (high-risk).
  • The Audiovisual Media, Online Platforms and Elections risk score increased from 79% to 85%.
  • The risk score for media viability climbed into the high-risk zone, with 79% as opposed to 54% the previous year.

The problems the report highlights address concerns that have been stated. The report notes that the public inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, published in July 2021, made a number of recommendations for a comprehensive media reform that would establish press freedom as the fourth pillar of democracy.

“Despite numerous recommendations from international institutions, press freedom networks, and local civil society, at the time of writing, none of the points raised in the report have been implemented.”

The Political Independence indicator has the highest risk score. The Independence of Public Service Media (97%), Political Independence of Media (94%) and Editorial Autonomy (88%) are areas of particular concern.

“As it stands, these structures not only marginalise civil society and smaller parties but also disregard the imbalance of power between the ruling party and the opposition.”

The need for reform

The ongoing media reform should bring the Right to Information provisions in line with international best practices. In practical terms, freedom of information requests need to be addressed in a timely and transparent manner – when authorities fail to do so, they should be held accountable.

The disproportionate SLAPP burden in Malta needs to be urgently addressed. It is also a concern that officials challenging journalists in that way use public resources for their legal defence, while litigation depletes the limited resources of independent media.

The Right to Information has a high-risk score of 77% – 16 percentage points higher than in MPM2023 due to the stalled and, according to experts, unsatisfactory reform process, arbitrary delays in providing information, and the general tendency of the government to sideline and ignore critical media.

“For example, The Shift News, a tiny independent newsroom, has over the years had to dedicate substantial resources to battle scores of denials of access to information in court,” the report states.

The report echoes the recommendation from the authors of Reforming Malta’s Media System: the Right to Information deserves constitutional protection, as well as an obligation of public authorities not to interfere.

Funding of the media is also addressed, with the lack of transparency being a major concern affecting the credibility of news being delivered to the public.

“The State Media Monitor calls the PBS’s budgeting ‘totally opaque’. In 2024, The Shift News obtained the broadcaster’s accounts, which revealed that the entity has been experiencing losses despite the increase in its budget and that it was outsourcing more of its programming. An earlier audit established that the company was not accountable for how it spent the subsidies.”

The study also notes that troll armies and smear campaigns continue to be a major concern,with allegations that these are orchestrated by actors close to the government.

The report makes a set of recommendations to address these issues. The political will to drive the required change is another matter. But following the EU’s adoption of the anti-SLAPP directive and the Media Freedom Act, Malta will be confronted with a number of challenges to adjust its legislation.

                           

Sign up to our newsletter

Stay in the know

Get special updates directly in your inbox
Don't worry we do not spam
                           
                               
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
wenzu
wenzu
17 days ago

PN/MLP = Malta’s garbage. Two criminal organisations that put themselves above the law.

Paul Abdilla
Paul Abdilla
12 days ago
Reply to  wenzu

Mr. WENZU that’s how you want to give absolution to the criminal PL,by implicating the NP as equal to the labour capitalist party , I can assure you that if the nationalist party has done a fraction of we’ve been experiencing under this corrupt government you’ll be the first one to participate in their crucifixion, please don’t be a hypocrite because now we are used of your game

Related Stories

Fact-checking Malta’s delegation to UN committee – Daphne Foundation
In a statement today, The Daphne Foundation fact-checked what
Joseph Muscat’s jailbird friends
You can tell a lot about a person by

Our Awards and Media Partners

Award logo Award logo Award logo