The Who, What & Why of the Committee of Experts on the Media

Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced the creation of a Committee of Experts on the Media, as recommended by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Public Inquiry report. The aim of the committee is to analyse the journalism and media sector in Malta, underline the areas requiring development and make the necessary recommendations.

This appointment comes after a thorough consultation process with stakeholders and major players, including the Caruana Galizia family, the Institute of Maltese Journalists, and members of international organisations.

1. Who?

Former Judge Michael Mallia will chair the committee. Mallia served 30 years in the judiciary before retiring in 2015. He led the Caruana Galizia Public Inquiry Board.

Matthew Xuereb is assistant Editor of the Times of Malta who has been working in journalism for over 20 years and is the President of the Institute for Maltese Journalists.

Kurt Sansone is online editor of MaltaToday. He has been working as a journalist for over 25 years and is the Secretary General of the Institute for Maltese Journalists.

Prof Carmen Sammut holds a PhD in Media and Communications and lectures and writes about journalism and communication. Shes’s an experienced broadcaster who regularly appears as an analyst discussing current events.

Dr Kevin Dingli served as Chairperson of Malta’s Press Ethics Commission and is the Managing Partner of Dingli & Dingli Law Firm.

Savior Balzan is founder and co-owner of MaltaToday, with a career in journalism spanning over 30 years.

Neil Camilleri is Editor in Chief of The Malta Independent with over 17 years of experience in journalism, including 6 years as Deputy Editor at Net Television.

Prof Saviour Formosa holds a PhD in Spatio-Temporal Criminology and is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Malta. Worked on various reforms and initiatives, including those related to money laundering.

2. What?

The Committee will be tasked to prepare its recommendation report within one year.  The report will then be presented to Parliament within 10 days of receipt by the Prime Minister. 

Furthermore, the Committee has been asked to provide feedback on a number of legislative amendments prepared by Government, within 2 months. 

The legislative amendments include:

(i) Anti-SLAPP

An amendment on the protection of journalists against strategic lawsuits against public participation (an anti-SLAPP provision), without prejudice to the application of EU law and of any treaty to which Malta is a party. 

The provision will regulate situations where the execution of a judgment on defamation delivered by a court outside Malta is demanded in Malta and the judgment is executable in Malta under the other legal provisions on the enforcement of foreign judgments in Malta.

It will be provided that the Court shall, if it considers that the action which gave rise to the judgment was substantially based on claims related to Malta and that the action could have been filed in Malta but was probably not so filed as part of a strategy intended to inflict an undue financial burden on the defendant, limit the execution of the judgment to such amount which the Court considers as an amount which would have been due as damages and, or costs, under the Media and Defamation Act had the action been filed in Malta.

Based on this amendment the Court will also be empowered to refuse the execution of such judgment if it considers that the execution of the judgment would violate the right to freedom of expression as protected under the Maltese legal system.

(ii) Media & Defamation Act

An amendment to the Media and Defamation Act to address the situation where an author or an editor dies when civil proceedings for defamation have been commenced against the author or editor, or may be commenced or continued against the heirs. 

It will be provided that in deciding the case on the merits, the Court shall not award any damages against the heirs of the deceased editor or author. 

The Court shall also be empowered to order that the proceedings be discontinued upon the demand of the heirs under such conditions as it may determine. The Court will also be empowered to order the discontinuance of the proceedings where it considers that legal responsibility for the alleged defamation cannot be determined after the death of the author or editor in their absence.

(iii) Harsher punishments for offences against journalists

An amendment to the Criminal Code, to provide for an increase in punishment for offences against a journalist attributable to the execution of the journalist’s functions.

(iv) Payment of fees after case is decided

A proposed amendment to provide that in actions for defamation filed in terms of the Media and Defamation Act, payment of Court Registry fees will not be due upon the filing of the reply by the defendant but when the final judgment is delivered and only when the case is decided against the defendant.

(v) Respect for the role of journalists

An amendment to Article 41 of the Constitution on the right to freedom of expression to ensure that freedom and pluralism of the media and the importance of the role of journalists are respected.

(vi) Committee for protection of journalists

The appointment of a Committee for the Recommendation of Measures for the Protection of Journalists, Other Media Actors and Persons in Public Life, composed of the Commissioner of Police as Chairperson of the Committee, the Head of the Malta Security Service and the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta, has already started functioning. 

This Committee’s task is to decide on measures to manage identified risks, to prepare a security plan, to provide necessary protection to journalists and other media actors and to provide the necessary protection for persons in public life.

3. Why?

Malta’s Government has made a series of reforms on good governance and rule of law. Yet the Daphne Caruana Galizia Public Inquiry also proposed that particular attention is given to the development of the journalistic profession.

The way the appointment has been made and the fact that the Government has already presented a number of draft laws to the committee for their consideration displays this Government’s will and commitment to continue strengthening journalism and modernise the institutions of our country.

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