Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has been urged to guarantee independent media “full, regular access and interviews” by a group of international press freedom organisations following their three-day mission to Malta.
In a report, following a series of meetings with senior government officials including Dr Muscat, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Attorney General Peter Grech, as well as journalists and activists, the groups made a series of recommendations to the government, including those aimed at improving journalists’ access to information.
“The importance of journalists being able to question and interview the Prime Minister is in the public interest. Although the Prime Minister regularly conducts press availability during public events and does Facebook live interviews, this is not equivalent to a press conference with unscripted questions and does not enable an adequate level of public scrutiny,” the groups noted in their report.
The mission was made up of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, PEN International and Reporters without Borders. They were in Malta this week marking one year since journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb.
It does not enable an adequate level of public scrutiny
The delegation added that it was also concerned by the use of “commercial sensitivity” as grounds to not comply with freedom of information requests.
“Journalists report that restrictions on access to information have been a perennial challenge in Malta, but said the problem has worsened under this administration. In the past, journalists said they would at least receive acknowledgement, but now their requests often go unacknowledged,” the NGOs said.
Call for public inquiry into Caruana Galizia murder
They also reiterated calls for the government to establish “without delay a public inquiry” into whether the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia could have been prevented.
The groups went on to lament that the government did not “indicate any urgency towards completing the investigation and officials offered no information on when they expected it to be completed”.
“Indeed, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General expressed satisfaction with the investigation so far – a jarring sentiment given the apparent lack of advancement,” the organisations said.
As part of the recommendations, the NGOs also urged the government to fulfil the commitment made during the meeting with the Prime Minister that the upcoming recommendations to be made by the Venice Commission in the coming months are implemented.
They also called on the government to ensure there is an environment that enabled freedom of assembly and the right to protest, particularly at the site of the memorial to Ms Caruana Galizia “until such time as full justice in her case has been achieved”.