It was another touching moment. Yesterday as members of the European Parliament, we paid tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, who just over a week ago was horrendously assassinated.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani spoke out loudly for all of us present when he pointed out that Daphne “epitomised everything that is good about the journalistic profession:  she sought out the truth, the facts, and refused to let anyone stand in her way. She was not afraid to do whatever it took to fulfil what she saw as her duty”.

I knew Daphne for over 40 years and always held her unwavering courage and commitment to the truth in the highest esteem. In particular I remember the courage she displayed when as university students we needed to stand up to protect the future of education in Malta. I know that her bitter experience of the police on that occasion served to make her more resilient, more determined to stand up and be counted.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people walked into Valletta demanding justice over her brutal assassination. She was Malta’s most investigative and courageous journalist ever.

We often refer to a journalist’s right to express his or her opinions on different issues. We refer to a journalist’s right to investigate, to inform, to publish, to express an opinion and even stand up for those causes that the journalist believes in.

That is only a fraction of the story.

When we refer to freedom of expression with regard to the media, we are not only referring to the right of authors or journalists to express themselves, but we are also referring to our right to have access to the information that they impart to us, to have a broad spectrum of different opinions to enable us to form a better opinion about issues that are of concern to us.

Over a year and a half ago, on March 17, 2016, the Magistrates’ Court gave a very important decree in a libel case instituted by Lindsey Gambin against Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The sources of journalists are protected not merely to safeguard the journalists’ freedom of expression, but to safeguard our own freedom

In that case Gambin sought to have the court order Daphne to reveal her sources.

After establishing Daphne’s unequivocal credentials as a journalist on the basis that her Running Commentary provided information, facts, comments and observations on a regular basis, the court, presided over by Magistrate Franco Depasquale, referred at length to principles established by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and through case law of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to the notion of freedom of expression.

In particular the court quoted the declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the Protection of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly and Association with regard to privately operated internet platforms and online providers – adopted on December 7, 2011, wherein it was expressly stated: “People, notably civil society representatives, whistleblowers and human rights defenders, increasingly rely on social networks, blogging websites and other means of mass communication in aggregate to access and exchange information, publish content, interact, communicate and associate with each other. 

“These platforms are becoming an integral part of the new media ecosystem. Although privately operated, they are a significant part of the public sphere which facilitate debate on issues of public interest; in some cases, they can fulfil, similar to traditional media, the role of a social ‘watchdog’ and have demonstrated their usefulness in bringing positive, real-life change.”

In his decree Magistrate Depasquale also referred to another leading case of the European Court of Human Rights, Voskuil vs the Netherlands’ where the European Court had pointed out that generally an order for disclosure of a journalist’s sources is to be considered as in violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression “having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect an order of source disclosure has on the exercise of that freedom”.

In brief, the sources of journalists are protected not merely to safeguard the journalists’ freedom of expression, but to safeguard our own freedom – our freedom to receive information and to be able to rely on the media to provide us with facts and opinions, no matter how unpleasant that information may be to the powers that be.

That explains why the brutal assassination of Daphne is an assault on our own freedom of expression.

The failure by the government to protect such a journalist carries with it political responsibility that needs to be shouldered.

It must be shouldered irrespective of how the investigations are being carried out at this stage.

Francis Zammit Dimech is a Nationalist MEP.

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