In Malta, journalists have to cope with a highly polarised environment under the strong influence of political parties. In 2021, a public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was concluded, listing a comprehensive set of reforms the government has been reluctant to implement. !
Public broadcaster PBS is the most watched television channel, followed by TV stations owned by political parties. In addition to the three traditional, independent, English-language newspapers (Times of Malta, Malta Independent and Malta Today) , there are online news portals and blogs.
The ruling party wields a strong influence over the public broadcaster and uses public advertising to exert pressure on private media. Many politicians select specific journalists for exclusive interviews, while those considered “hostile” are ignored, including within the party media. The government requires an “access card” issued to journalists to cover government events or attend press conferences.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, but the legal and regulatory framework does not allow journalists to exercise their rights. Discriminating against independent media in access to information, the authorities have gone so far as to challenge in court each of the 40 requests for access to information sent by a media outlet, effectively targeting it with a new type of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Journalists are regularly the targets of SLAPP, and family members of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in 2017, are even targeted with posthumous defamation lawsuits.
Although it is relatively easy to launch a media outlet, the small market offers limited sources of funding for independent media whose sustainability is undermined by non-transparent and discriminatory distribution of public funds. During the pandemic, subsidies were mostly granted to political parties’ media outlets.
On almost every issue of public interest, Maltese society suffers from deep polarization. Reporting on certain topics such as migration or abortion remains unpopular and incites abuse towards journalists covering these topics. Very few journalists from minority groups work for the mainstream media. Investigative reporting is carried out by a handful of journalists, almost exclusively men.
Full justice is yet to be served for the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. In 2022, two hitmen pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 40 years in prison. Earlier, one of the perpetrators and the middleman were pardoned in exchange for information. But the mastermind and others involved in the crime, have yet to be convicted. Although the public inquiry recognized that “the state has to shoulder responsibility for the assassination because it created an atmosphere of impunity”, the resulting recommendations have not been implemented.