Fact-checking Malta's delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee

05 July 2024

The UN has published the summary of the meeting on the third periodic report of Malta (CCPR/C/MLT/3). We fact-checked the Malta delegation’s claims relating to media and journalists.

The murder of Ms. Daphne Caruana Galizia had left an indelible mark on the society, prompting the Government to redouble efforts to protect journalists.

🚩 Daphne’s murder is unprecedented but Government’s efforts to protect journalists remain minimal. The recommendations of the public inquiry into Daphne’s assassination have still not been implemented, three years after the inquiry report was presented to Prime Minister Abela.

New legislation has been introduced, and Malta has collaborated closely with international institutions to ensure effective action.

🚩 The legislative proposals Government presented in parliament do not meet international standards. The bills Malta Government presented in parliament in October 2022 need to be replaced as they fail to meet international standards (OSCE RFoM 1, OSCE RFoM 2) and “fail to create the systemic reforms required to foster an enabling environment for free and independent journalism” (MFRR). However, almost two full years later, Malta’s Government has still not publicly committed to publishing a White Paper on legal reforms to open up the process to public consultation.

In October 2022, two individuals were found guilty by the Court and sentenced to 40 years imprisonment each.

🚩 Three other people accused of complicity in Daphne’s murder are awaiting jury trial. No date has been set yet.

Personal protection measures are the same for all persons at risk of physical attacks. However, journalists had an additional mechanism available to report threats. The Maltese police force will then respond to these reports and investigate the threats in a timely and effective manner.

🚩 The additional mechanism available for journalists to report threats is the appointment of the Malta Police spokesperson as a contact person for journalists under threat.

Malta will make necessary legislative changes in 2025 in regard to journalistic sources, establishing a common framework for the media aimed at protecting media independence and pluralism.

🚩 The Human Rights Committee’s question was about SLAPPs and whether the Media Act contains the necessary provisions for protection. The delegation did not reply to the question. The European Parliament voted in Daphne’s Law, the EU anti-SLAPP Directive, on 27th February 2024. The Directive took effect on 16 April 2024. On 5th April 2024, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Recommendation. The Directive must be transposed within 24 months and Malta’s national anti-SLAPP legislation must meet or exceed the standards set by both instruments.

Malta had taken significant steps to safeguard freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in recent years, including through the Media and Defamation Act, and through the Protection of the Whistleblower Act.

🚩 The Whistleblower Act has proven ineffective. The Media and Defamation Act does not provide full protection for journalists. Almost all of the recommendations of the public inquiry into Daphne’s assassination remain unimplemented, particularly those concerning organised crime and the rule of law.

Malta valued the expertise of the Council of Europe for creating a safer environment for journalists, and was committed to ongoing collaboration. The protection of journalists remained a top priority, especially following the tragedy of witnessing a journalist’s murder.

🚩 In letters to the Prime Minister of Malta and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives dated 3rd October 2023, the Council of Europe’s then Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, said that she “regrets the lack of significant results in bringing to justice all those responsible for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. She also stresses that proposed legislative changes to strengthen freedom of expression fall short of comprehensive reforms in line with international human rights standards and lack transparent consultation.”

Regarding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a public inquiry report was published in July 2021. Following the publication of the report, consultations were held with key stakeholders, including the Caruana Galizia family, journalists and international organisations.

🚩 There has not been any consultation with Daphne’s family nor any formal consultation with journalists. Offers of technical assistance by international press freedom and free expression NGOs and the advice of international organisations have been ignored.

As recommended by the public inquiry, a committee on media was established to analyse the journalism and media sector and to provide reactions on draft legislative amendments.

🚩 The board of the public inquiry into the circumstances of Daphne’s assassination recommended the establishment of a Committee of Experts “with the purpose that the recommendations of this Board, among others, are implemented in a holistic and organic framework”. When appointing the ‘Committee of Experts on Media’, the Government’s terms of reference given to the committee excluded all of the public inquiry’s recommendations concerning the rule of law, unexplained wealth, and organised crime. When the Opposition proposed legislation in parliament to address all of the recommendations of the public inquiry, the MPs on the Government side voted against it. The Office of the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to publish the report drafted by the ‘Committee of Experts on Media’ (“Rapport tal-Kumitat tal-Esperti dwar is-Settur tal-Midja. Rapport Finali, 4 ta’ Lulju, 2023”).

The delegation of Malta was made up of representatives of the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministry for Health and Active Ageing; the Ministry for Home Affairs, Security and Employment; the Ministry for Justice and Reform of the Construction Sector; the Ministry for Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector; and the Permanent Mission of Malta to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The Head of Delegation was Jonathan Vassallo, Permanent Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Malta.