Monthly Archives: November 2017

Press law reform is here: let’s strengthen this Bill

When the government released its sloppy and badly-drafted Media and Defamation Bill back in February the lobby for freedom of speech and expression felt betrayed. The media bill proposed to double civil libel fines and failed to remove criminal libel from the list of indictable offences.

The publication of stories based on unsubstantiated claims, appearing both online and in the press at around the same time, was deemed as grounds enough by a faction of government supporters to endorse a bill which aimed to stifle free speech even further than before.

We were worried and rightly so.

The Front against Censorship was quick to react. We launched a campaign of strong opposition to the bill. We analysed the bill thoroughly and presented clear-cut counter-proposals. The government responded by inviting us for talks. The talks were very intensive and it took some time until the government consented to our proposed changes to the bill, a demanding exercise in which I was helped by my colleagues Ingram Bondin and Andrew Sciberras.

It is only right that the government should be praised for accepting most of our proposals, which included the universalisation of the right of protection of sources (instead of having it restricted solely to those in the media register), the complete abolition of criminal libel, the removal of colonial vilification laws related to the President and the Flag of the Republic, the consolidation of a single-publication rule, the removal of the obligation for members of the media to register with the proposed media register and the capping of civil libel damages to their current level. It is worth mentioning that the government was initially adamant that it would double civil libel damages, but now these will not be increased and they will remain at the current level.

This bill is partly a copy from the UK defamation Act which is a good model to follow as long as you cap the damages, and tweak and modify several other points. Admittedly, the government didn’t accept all our proposals, some of which were very technical, but we can safely say that this bill is an important progressive step forward for the consolidation of the right of freedom of speech in our country.

This bill will also help induce a safer environment for journalists since it gives the explicit message that journalists and writers have the right to criticise and investigate incisively with greater freedom than before. Thanks to the single-publication rule, one can’t open a libel case on each and every re-publication of a story – there can only be one case for every story, irrespective how many times this story has been published.

Libel laws have always been used by the strong and powerful to clamp down on criticism.

Big companies and politicians have repeatedly used libel laws in order to stop journalists trying to investigate cases of corporate misconduct.

This new legislation will make it even more difficult for the strong and powerful to silence criticism or journalistic investigation.

Now it is up to the media editors to step in and put forward their position and proposals when the bill goes to the second reading and more amendments may be made.

The Labour government has as of now been consistent in dismantling our censorship laws and it is continuing to do so with the help of stakeholders. We should insist that it does not lose track of this consistent progress.

19 November 2017, 9:16am

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/82306/press_law_reform_is_here_lets_strengthen_this_bill#.Whp7k981snQ

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Front’s Media Bill Amendments Accepted by Government

Press Release – Front Against Censorship – 15/11/2017

Front’s Media Bill Amendments Accepted by Government

The Front Against Censorship wishes to express its satisfaction at the fact that the Government has accepted the majority of its amendments to the Media and Defamation Bill.

When the Government had proposed the Bill last February, the Front had opposed it on a number of grounds. From March onwards the Front has been engaged in intensive discussion with the Government with the aim of reaching an agreement over the contents of the Bill. These extensive efforts have now borne fruit and the Government has now accepted the Front’s proposals.

The measures which had been proposed by the Front and which have been accepted by the Government are the following.

  1. Repeal of Criminal Libel and Criminal Defamation. Libel and Slander will now be tried exclusively in a Civil Court.

  2. Damages awarded for Libel to remain at 11,646.87 instead of being doubled to €20,000.

  3. Repeal of Obscene Libel – thus completing reform of artistic censorship laws.

  4. Single Publication Rule – only one libel suit can be filed per story.

  5. Universal Protection of Sources – to be extended to all authors.

  6. Garnishees not to be granted in cases of Libel and Slander.

  7. Law on Improper Use of Electronic Communications Networks not to apply to Libel and Slander.

  8. Registration of websites will not be obligatory.

  9. Criticism of the President no longer a criminal offence.

  10. Reform of draconian colonial era Sedition laws.

The Front believes that these reforms represent a huge step forward in the dismantling of Malta’s censorship laws. The Front agrees wholeheartedly with more lenient libel laws since it believes that libel is too often a weapon used by powerful political and business interests to intimidate journalists exposing their wrongdoing. Despite this important reform of repressive laws the Front promises to keep vigilant against future threats to freedom of expression.

Stqarrija Stampa – Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura – 15/11/2017

Il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura jilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon il-fatt li l-Gvern aċċetta l-maġġoranza tal-proposti tiegħu dwar l-Abbozz ta’ Ligi dwar il-Midja u l-Malfama.

Meta fi Frar li għadda l-Gvern ħareġ Abbozz ta’ Liġi sabiex jemenda il-Liġi tal-Istampa, il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura kien irreaġixxa billi oppona dan l-abbozz fuq diversi punti. Minn Marzu li għadda l-Gvern beda diskussjonijiet intensivi mal-Front Kotnra ċ-Ċensura bil-għan li jinltaħaq ftehim fuq l-abbozz. Illum nistgħu ngħidu b’sodisfazzjon li dawn id-diskussjonijiet u x-xogħol estensiv li għamel il-Front f’dan ir-rigward sarraf fil-qbil tal-Gvern mal-maġġoranza tal-proposti tal-Front.

Il-proposti tal-Front li ġew aċċettati u li sejrin jidhru fl-abbozz il-ġdid huma dawn li ġejjin:

  1. It-tneħħija tal-Libell Kriminali u l-Inġurja Kriminali. Każijiet ta’ Libell u Inġurja sejrin jibdew jinstemgħu biss f’Qorti Ċivili.

  2. Id-danni li jistgħu jintrebħu waqt Libell Ċivili sejrin jibqgħu €11,646.87 minflok jirduppjaw għal €20,000.

  3. It-tneħħija tal-Libell Oxxen, li sejjer iġib fi tmiemu ir-reġim ta’ ċensura artistika.

  4. Regola ta’ Pubblikazzjoni Waħdanija – storja waħda issa sejra toħloq kawża ta’ libell waħda biss.

  5. Protezzjoni tas-Sors Universali – l-awturi kollha issa sejrin igawdu mill-protezzjoni tas-sorsi.

  6. Mhux sejrin jingħataw mandati ta’ sekwestru fejn jidħlu kawżi ta’ Libell u Inġurja.

  7. Il-Liġi dwar l-Użu Mhux Xieraq ta’ Apparat Elettroniku mhux sejra tapplika aktar fejn jidħlu l-kawżi ta’ Libell u Inġurja.

  8. Ir-Reġistrazzjoni tas-siti mhux sejra tkun obbligatorja.

  9. Il-kritika lejn il-President mhux sejra tibqa’ offiża kriminali.

  10. Aġġornament tal-Liġijiet Kolonjali tas-Sedizzjoni.

Dawn ir-riformi huma pass kbir ‘il quddiem, għaliex ikomplu jżarmaw u jtaffu l-liġijiet ta’ ċensura f’pajjiżna, b’mod speċjali fejn jidħlu il-liġijiet tal-libell. Il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura jaqbel li l-liġijiet tal-libell għandhom ikunu anqas ħorox għaliex ħafna drabi dawn huma arma b’saħħitha li tintuża minn politiċi u negozjanti kbar kontra dawk il-ġurnalisti li jikxfu l-imġieba ħażina tagħhom. Minkejja din ir-riforma importanti fejn jidħlu dawn il-liġijiet ripressivi, il-Front iwiegħed li sejjer jibqa’ attent għal kull theddid ieħor lejn il-liberta’ tal-espressjoni li tista’ titfaċċa fil-ġejjieni.