A bizarre directive that undermined the freedom of expression
Freedom of expression and free flow of information are cornerstones of public debate and democracy. Being the watchdogs of these freedoms, journalists are crucial to the very functioning of our societies.
Yet, freedom of expression is facing major challenges today. In many countries, journalists and other media actors are facing threats such as censorship, political and economic pressure, intimidation and job insecurity. In Malta, this is not an exception.
Recently, we witnessed a classic episode of censorship whereby the Broadcasting Authority issued a directive to the national broadcaster, PBS, instructing it not to broadcast any questions from journalists during a government COVID-19 press conference. The reason that was brought forward was to ensure impartiality on public Broadcasting.
If the Broadcasting Authority truly wants national Broadcasting to be impartial and balanced, it should see why PBS news often chooses not to report on government scandals. Instead of addressing the issues of impartiality and balance, the Broadcasting Authority issued a directive that has only served to bring freedom of expression in Malta further down into the abyss. No wonder we are doing so badly in the press freedom index!
An offence like that committed by the Broadcasting Authority indeed fuels recidivism and has a chilling effect on media freedom.
Moreover, on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights’ case law, Malta has obligations to protect journalists.
Not only must the authorities refrain from intimidating political declarations or judicial practices against media actors, but they also have the duty to actively grant them full protection of the law in order to create an enabling environment for their journalistic activities.