Malta falls another 4 places in the World Press Freedom Index

“No society can be truly, free and democratic, if it is not well-informed, and in this respect, this latest drop is worrying as much as it is disappointing.” – IĠM

22nd April 2020

The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) regrets that Malta has yet again fallen in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. Malta is now 31 places lower than it was in 2016.

No society can be truly, free and democratic, if it is not well-informed, and in this respect, this latest drop is worrying as much as it is disappointing.

IĠM agrees that weaknesses in the rule of law ultimately hinders journalism and that much more needs to be done to allow journalists access to important information. 

As we have seen from the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, the failure of authorities  to act on reports of corruption – in addition to allowing bad actors to act with impunity – leaves journalists alone and at risk. Ridiculing and attempting to discredit journalists, results in an all the more dangerous situation.

While there are a number of challenges facing the local media, including relating to its financing and influence by political or business sources, IĠM disagrees with the implication that the majority of Maltese media houses are beholden to political interests. That Malta’s political parties’ own media organisations is known to all in Malta, as is the nature of the content that they produce, and while it does pose its own challenges, it takes nothing away from the work done by the country’s independent media houses.

The last few years, specifically the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, have seen Maltese journalism and indeed the country, pass through some of its darkest days. They have also, however, seen some of the best and most important journalistic work ever.

In its entry on Malta that accompanies this year’s index, RSF points to the events of last December, which saw protestors take to the streets and ultimately force the country’s Prime Minister out of office. The country’s independent media were the only reason the information ultimately came to light. The public support given to the protest movement by all of Malta’s independent media houses was also unprecedented and showed that despite, the challenges, the principles of a free and independent press are alive and well in the country. 

Going forward IĠM hopes to work closely with the government and Malta’s political parties to address a number of the issues raised in the latest press freedom index, including the problem of hate speech towards journalists.

While it is true that discourse online is becoming less tolerant and more aggressive, the nature of the journalistic profession means journalists are exposed to it more than the average person. 

An effort is required across all segments of society, but there is also a responsibility on the part of political parties to condemn such speech, especially when it comes from within the party itself. Malta’s politicians must condemn this sort of behaviour as a failure to do so is indicative of their tacit consent.

The World Press Freedom Index notes that “the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information”. RSF reflect on five areas of crisis ought to be faced during the next ten years: geopolitical, technological, democratic, trust and economic. While noting that the Government reacted to its calls for immediate action on safeguarding the journalistic sector during this pandemic, IĠM reiterates its appeal for more clarity on the government’s commitment to help the local newsrooms.

IĠM stresses that there cannot be a functioning democracy without a free and unhindered press. A commitment, including by the relevant authorities, to reverse this downward trend in the World Press Freedom Index during the coming year is a must.