What a press reform should look like

As we go through Malta’s continued collapse of rule of law, we should not forget that Robert Abela’s intentions are fundamentally authoritarian, and as civil society is focused on very important issues, Robert will do his best to keep extending his power behind our backs. One major way Robert Abela intends to extend his power is by crushing the press through a fraudulent press reform.

It is important to keep track and not lose the plot of this story because that’s what Robert would like. After he exhausts and divides the press, and while everyone is distracted, Robert will find an opportune moment to once again push his authoritarian reform.

In order to push his authoritarian reform, Robert Abela composed a pseudo-consultation committee with his supporters and apparatchiks to rubber-stamp his proposals. Among the many authoritarian reforms proposed by Robert were a military committee and the introduction of the right to privacy. Supposedly the committee has sent its advice to the government on these outrageous proposals.

However, the press shouldn’t play along Robert’s game because doing so would be the equivalent of discussing with the government the extent and the way the press is going to be allowed to be pummeled. I rather have a sparing contest and defend myself than allow myself to take this masochistic and opportunistic direction that the pseudo-consultation committee is trying to force on us journalists.

Having been the Labour government’s top consultant on laws regarding freedom of speech during my other life as a government executive, I have plenty of things I would like to see in a press reform. Naturally, the consultation committee never even reach out to me (I am actually blocked on social media by two of the committee’s members).

SLAPP is banned in local courts.

Libel cases initiated against the Maltese press in foreign jurisdictions should be barred from being recognised by local courts. The European Commission of Justice is currently in the process of drafting a SLAPP ban across the EU.

Reform of the Electronic Communications Act

The Electronic Communications Act should be reformed along with any other laws currently being abused to suppress free speech and a new benchmark introduced where the only prosecutable offence with speech should be limited to threats of violence. The right to insult and offence should be safeguarded. The right to satire is safeguarded as well.

Vexatious and lost libel cases should come at a cost

Anyone who opens a libel case and loses should pay the equivalent amount of damages sought for to the journalist who was accused of libel. Vexatious libels should be penalised at even higher costs.

Threats to journalists should come with a higher criminal degree

Anyone threatening a journalist with violence, or anyone committing acts of violence against journalists should be charged with higher degree criminal charges due to the fact that these crimes are also deliberate acts against freedom of speech and the general public.

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