A group of international media NGOs has expressed their concern over the lack of transparency and public consultation in the implementation of reforms stemming from the public inquiry into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

The NGOs, which include Reporters without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists, said this lack of transparency by both the government and an expert committee on media reforms had been evident at every stage of the process.

“Unfortunately, despite the assertions of the committee and of government that the proposals were “widely consulted,” at every stage the work of the committee and the government has been shrouded in secrecy and there have been no open consultations with civil society or a broader range of stakeholders,” the NGOs said.

Appointed in January 2022, the committee was given two months to provide feedback on changes to laws about press freedom, anti-SLAPP provisions and libel laws.

SLAPPS - strategic lawsuits against public participation - are tactics such as groundless defamation actions that are used to harass journalists. 

The NGOs have urged the government and committee to take further steps to meet its international human rights obligations and fully protect and promote a safe media environment in Malta by offering a range of recommendations for how the proposals can fully ensure comprehensive protection from SLAPPs.

They said it is incumbent on the government and committee to ensure anti-SLAPP legislation meets the highest international standards rather than the minimum criteria that may be established in EU law or treaty.

The NGOs said standalone comprehensive anti-SLAPP law with a broad personal scope that recognises that SLAPPs are aimed at restricting transparent debate on issues of public importance and can impact anybody who wants to hold power to account.

Media reforms represent only a small portion of the slew of recommendations by the inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder.

The panel of judges had also recommended introducing legislation to rein in big business and lobbying.

Other recommendations that appear to have been ignored by the government include introducing a law criminalising obstruction of justice by government officials, and a specific abuse of office law for public officials.

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