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Government planning to double libel penalties

Criminal libel and garnishee orders against journalists will be dropped

The government said today that it plans to double the maximum penalty which a court may impose for libel to €20,000 while removing criminal libel and the imposition of garnishee orders freezing the bank accounts of journalists during libel cases.

The fine for slander will be raised to €10,000.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici told a press conference this afternoon that the government is also considering the appointment of a press complaints council or ombudsman to consider complaints regarding unfair reporting.

“We will be looking at what is done in other countries and we might consider appointing a press ombudsman where those who feel unjustly treated by media can seek assistance through these channels,” Mr Bartolo said.

A public consultation will be held on what is expected of modern-day journalistic ethics, the minister said, adding that this will serve to protect journalists too.
Mediation processes will also be introduced in an attempt to cut down waiting times for those involved in libel cases.

Asked whether the ministers disagreed with Economy Minister Chris Cardona slapping blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia with a €47,460 garnishee order, both said his moves did not go against existing laws and so he had every right to do so.

“Minister Cardona took an extreme measure when confronting an extreme person. The steps he took where against someone who attacks children, family members, people who are sick who goes into people’s private lives and has no limits.

“I understand my colleague's stance as he took measures to protect his private life,” Mr Bartolo said.

Dr Bonnici echoed similar views on the matter. 

See the Media and Defamation Bill in full by clicking the pdf icon below.

PN REACTION

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said the government was acting to remove garnishee orders in libel cases only after the PN moved a private motion in parliament for this purpose.

Furthermore, the removal of criminal libel was promised by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil 16 months ago.

The PN said the Bill presented today continued to expose the government’s falsity in that two ministers had now said that garnishee orders would be removed while another minister, Chris Cardona, slapped a garnishee order on a journalist who revealed that he had been to a brothel.  

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