On October 2, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that he would publish a white paper on proposed laws for the media in Malta. This declaration came as he tabled in Parliament the final report of the Committee of Media Experts he had appointed last year to advise on reforming media laws in Malta.

Government officials touted this announcement as the culmination of a transparent and inclusive public consultation towards unprecedented reforms to safeguard the media in Malta following the death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Malta on October 16, 2017, and, to date, three men have been convicted, and three other suspects await trial, including the alleged mastermind. 

Two years following her death and after pressure from the Caruana Galizia family, civil society and international media freedom organisations, the government commissioned a public inquiry to investigate the circumstances that led to her death. 

In its 2021 report, the public inquiry found the state had to “shoulder responsibility” for Caruana Galizia’s death because it had created an “atmosphere of impunity”. It had also failed to take reasonable steps to protect her. The report went on to make critical recommendations for legislative reform within the establishment and within the police to fight corruption and improve the safety of journalists. 

Two years after receiving the final report of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta has yet to address the systemic failures that led to the journalist’s death. 

Malta’s government has still only fully implemented one of the 28 key recommendations, which it proceeded to mishandle. 

The Caruana Galizia inquiry report recommended setting up a Committee of Media Experts that was meant to examine the state of journalism and the fundamental right of freedom of expression. The committee was to produce specific recommendations that parliament would consider in a brief timeframe. 

Instead, the government set up a Committee of Media Experts to advise on legislation already drafted rather than to advise the government during the drafting process. And ever since the Committee was set up, the entire two-year consultative process has been characterised by opacity and controversy, leaving journalists no better protected than before.

As journalists and civil society await the publication of the white paper and the details included within, there is some concern that this major opportunity for meaningful reform which better protects journalists could be lost, and that one element of the legacy many hoped to secure after the tragic murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia could be undermined.

A fraught and opaque process

Work to reform the laws governing Maltese media began in January 2022 after the government rejected legislative proposals presented in parliament by the opposition that were based on the public inquiry’s recommendations. 

Instead, the government announced that it had appointed an eight-person committee to assess local laws and advise on improving them. The committee was given three months to submit their comments and suggestions on the draft legislation already prepared by the government.  

The committee was never consulted during the drafting of the bills. It was also instructed to keep their discussions confidential, which led to criticism of the journalists who formed part of the Committee representing Malta’s Press Association. 

The Committee of Media Experts submitted its first recommendations and proposals in June 2022. But the report was not made public until late September when Justice Minister Jonathan Attard presented the government’s proposals at a press conference.

Legal experts immediately identified several deficiencies in the Maltese government’s legislative proposals. 

For example, a proposed amendment that seeks to protect the heirs of a deceased author or editor in defamation cases still raises concerns about the ability of publishers to defend against such allegations should a plaintiff decide to pursue their case against a publisher. 

In addition, the proposed amendments address Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) by empowering Maltese courts to dismiss baseless cases. Damages in SLAPP suits from foreign courts can be capped locally, and local courts can disregard foreign judgments in such suits. However, the proposed legislation falls short of international recommendations, leaving journalists in Malta vulnerable to SLAPP threats.

About to miss an opportunity?

After unveiling the draft bills, over a hundred Maltese journalists, academics, and artists wrote to Prime Minister Robert Abela, urging him to hold a public consultation on the proposed legislation.

The prime minister initially resisted but eventually agreed to halt the legislative process to allow the media experts committee to consult the broader media sector.

The same committee, whose main recommendations had already been ignored and which the government blamed for the lack of consultation, was then tasked with consulting the public and returning with a revised set of recommendations.

The committee submitted its second report to the government last July. Malta’s Parliament had closed for the summer recess by then, allowing the government to keep the report under wraps until October 2 when it was tabled in the House of Representatives. 

Proposals made by the committee include creating a system of transparent public funding for media houses, binding public authorities to provide information to journalists within a reasonable time, and constitutionally protecting journalists from revealing their sources. 

These elements of the proposed reforms have been cautiously welcomed by media freedom groups, who stress that the devil will be in the detail of the proposed amendments, as well as the strictness of their implementation.

The committee also proposed amendments to the law protecting journalists from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, allowing them to be dismissed early on in the court proceedings and recommended the removal of terms such as journalist, author or editor and extending the protection from SLAPPs to other possible targets, including NGOs and activists.

It also advised the government to empower magistrates who rule against a SLAPP case to order the payment of damages to the person or entity targeted by the SLAPP suit.

In its report, committee members noted that the government had again ignored its central original proposal, namely imposing an explicit obligation upon authorities to provide access to information within a reasonable time via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.. 

There were also several recommendations, including those by international press freedom organisations, that the Media Committee should have considered in this second round of recommendations. 

The committee did not introduce specific criteria for identifying a SLAPP suit and maintained the process of acknowledging foreign judgments that comply with the third country’s law. Experts, therefore, believe that in their current form, the suggested anti-SLAPP provisions will do little to deter plaintiffs from filing SLAPP suits.

When the report was tabled in parliament on October 2, Prime Minister Abela also announced that he would publish a white paper with the proposed laws for the media in Malta but gave no indication when this would be. 

Given how fraught and protracted the entire consultation process has been, the white paper feedback may be the last chance to push for more ambitious legislation to create an enabling environment for public participation in Malta or risk being stuck with sub-optimal laws that will do little to change the status quo

As the wait for the white paper continues, determination remains firm amongst media, journalists and international organisations to push for the best possible media laws for Malta, and the improvement in press freedom that such reforms would bring.


Malta: Fight for justice and reforms continues on sixth anniversary of Daphne Caruana Galizia murder


This article was commissioned by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.