A government plan to reform media laws which it has described as “historic” has been flagged as a threat to media freedom by a European body.

The Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists expressed concern about three bills tabled in Malta’s parliament this week, saying they fell short of recommended standards to protect the media and its work.

The platform forms part of the Council of Europe’s efforts to combat misinformation and threats to independent media. It publishes alerts from across Council of Europe member states related to media freedom.  

It classified the Maltese legislation as a state-led level 2 threat which has a chilling effect on media freedom.

It is the second active alert related to Malta, with the other related to a Labour Party electoral campaign billboard featuring blogger Manuel Delia. 

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard tabled the three media reform bills in parliament on Tuesday, despite widespread pressure for him to open the bills to public consultation. 

Attard argued that the government had already consulted on the legislation through a committee of experts it appointed. 

The bills propose a range of changes to local media laws, from adding references to freedom of the press into Malta’s constitution to introducing a number of legislative changes intended to protect journalists and media outlets from vexatious lawsuits, or strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs). 

But experts from within the media and legal sectors have warned that the anti-SLAPP measures fall well short of best practice and leave broad loopholes which leave journalists exposed. 

According to the platform, Malta’s proposals “do not appear to incorporate recommendations to strengthen the legislation and reflect international standards issued by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and media freedom organisations following consultations pursuant to the [Daphne Caruana Galizia] public inquiry report.”

It noted that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, had urged Prime Minister Robert Abela to ensure that any legal changes resulting from the Daphne inquiry be “fully open to public scrutiny and participation”.

Mijatović went public with that request on Thursday. 

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