Media freedom must be entrenched as the fourth pillar of democracy in Malta, activists urged in a conference held yesterday on the protection of journalists in the country.
“Journalists are the activists on the front line of democracy”, said Media Advisor to the Norwegian Refugee Council and former journalist, Karl Schembri, during his speech at the event.
The conference was organised by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, SOS Malta, Repubblika and PEN Malta with the support of the Embassy of the United States.
Speakers at the event included Sarah Clarke – the Head of Europe and Central Asia team at ARTICLE 19 – Prof Marilyn Clark (Council of Europe expert on media freedom), Nicole Meilak from Malta Today, Karl Schembri from the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Elizabeth F. Canellakis – the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer.
The aim of the conference was to evaluate proposals made since the recommendations resulting from the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia were published.
People in attendance were invited to share their experiences as journalists, editors and media workers. Several people came forward and spoke about the harassment they faced for the stories they worked on.
Manuel Delia spoke of the harassment he faced as a result of his stories, particularly in the form of lawsuits. He had been faced with a SLAPP lawsuit by the owner of Satabank, which was then quashed by the Bulgarian appeals court.
SLAPP lawsuits – also known as ‘gag’ lawsuits – are filed with the intent of crippling targets financially and discouraging them from continuing their work.
Earlier this month, a petition with over 200,000 signatures calling for an EU directive against SLAPPs was delivered to the European Commissioner for Values and Transparency.
Despite the extensive list of recommendations by the public inquiry board into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, there have yet to be any new measures set in place to protect journalists.
Daphne was faced with over 40 civil and criminal defamation lawsuits at the time of her death, including ones by several Maltese politicians who were in office at the time and still are today.
The proposals made in yesterday’s conference will be compiled into a report which will be sent to the government-appointed Committee of Experts that reviewed legislation that the government has proposed. The recommendations of the public inquiry are published online – see page 419 onwards here.
What measures do you think should be in place to protect journalists?