Labour’s true colours exposed

Labour’s true colours exposed

It was an impossible venture from the beginning, and the Nationalist Party must have suspected it all along. The government has turned down amendments to the Media and Defamation Bill that would protect journalists from foreign lawsuits making it prohibitively expensive for media houses to defend themselves (called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP).

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, who presented the amendments in a private member’s Bill, got his answer from Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, who spoke of expert opinions given to the government against the introduction of the amendments. He claimed that the proposed changes would breach EU law, apparently even if the European Commission has its own plans on SLAPP.

Dr Azzopardi said in Parliament earlier this year the Prime Minister had used a private e-mail address to collude with foreigners to open litigation in US jurisdictions against Maltese individuals and organisations. That was an astounding accusation.

MEP David Casa, in a letter to European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, mentions Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners as two companies that used SLAPP against local media. He accused the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and Dr Bonnici of being complicit.

If the government has indeed colluded with foreign companies to snuff out local critics, there was no chance of it supporting anti-SLAPP regulations. Clearly, it sees such media intimidation useful. The Opposition has shot the government’s legal arguments down but that is secondary. The fact remains that the government wants to leave media houses exposed to strategic law suits abroad. That is the bottom line.

Dr Bonnici speaks of strengthening laws to protect journalists but Labour was never really endeared to the idea of anti-SLAPP legislation, the biggest threat to independent media today. Environment Minister Josè Herrera has argued in this newspaper that the promised changes would “give vent to serious legal repercussions from a private international law perspective”. The Justice Minister did not sound much different when he spoke on Dr Azzopardi’s Bill.

The government is willing to use the local media and to abuse it with its fairy tale spins but is not willing to protect it. In its eyes, the media is just a tool, never the ‘fourth pillar of democracy’, and nothing to do with human rights.

This newspaper has borne the brunt of media intolerance under previous Labour governments, probably reaching its lowest ebb when Strickland House, in Valletta was burned down with impunity by Labour thugs. As was usual then, no one was arraigned.

Times have changed, the masks have changed but Labour’s rhetoric did not stop Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. That was a crime worse than arson. It was cold-blooded murder and the mind behind the attack is still on the loose.

Yes, there was parading and theatrics, even press conferences by the Prime Minister. But, away from the spotlight, the government wanted the murder to just go away with consistent assaults on a makeshift memorial in Valletta, on billboards and even on a banner in Valletta. If the government truly wanted to send a message it believed in media freedom, the anti-SLAPP legislation was the best opportunity. For all the legal horseplay, the government never wanted to provide that security to local media.

It says much about the sad mindset of the present administration.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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