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MALTATODAY 28 November 2021

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2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 28 NOVEMBER 2021 Media needs reform, but also assistance Editorial IT would be an understatement to suggest that the role of journalism in Malta – and of the media in general – was severely impacted by the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Indeed, this is why the Public Inquiry launched in November 2019, was tasked with more than just an assessment of the State's own responsibility for what happened. The terms of reference also specifically mentioned that one of the aims was to "[determine] whether the State has fulfilled and is fulfilling its positive obligation to take preventive operational measures to protect individuals whose lives are at risk from criminal acts: in particular in the case of journalists." Other aspects of the inquiry's conclusions may have – understandably – been given more press importance; but the inquiry did also fulfil this part of its obligation. It may even have gone a step fur- ther, by making a number of recommendations – including some which, while well-meaning, may be difficult to implement – regarding how to better regulate the role of journalism. Among its recommendations were the creation of a panel of experts to come up with proposals for reform in the media sector; as well as the establish- ment of a specific police unit to identify threats to journalists. Other recommendations included the introduc- tion of a clause in the Constitution: to the effect that free journalism is one of the pillars of a democratic society, and that the state has an obligation to guar- antee and protect it. The Public Inquiry also proposed the creation of an Ombudsman's Office or a Commissioner for Journalism Ethics, that is independent and on the same lines as the Commissioner for standards in Public Life. But while these are all certainly valid recommen- dations, in themselves: there are several other issues, linked to media freedoms, that may require tackling first. For instance, a 'special police unit' can only be of limited help, if Maltese law does not increase the gravity of offences if perpetrated against a journalist or media worker in their line of work. Likewise, there is urgent need for anti-SLAPP leg- islation that ensures foreign court judgments cannot be enforced locally, if they pose an existential threat to the media. And the reform should also ensure that when multiple libel cases linked to the same matter are filed, these are heard as one case, making it impossible for the courts to impose multiple pen- alties. Nonetheless, the Inquiry does correctly identify many of the core problems. A reform of the Free- dom of Information Act is certainly needed, to ensure more openness in the public sector and an obligation on government to reply to journalists' questions. Better police protection for journalists could also be provided by giving due importance to threats and abuse directed towards media workers. But apart from these changes that will enable jour- nalists to have more peace of mind, there is another fundamental issue that cannot be ignored – the commercial survival of the media as a whole. What all the above recommendations have in common is that they acknowledge a fundamental truth: that the media plays an important role in de- mocracy, acting as both watchdog and agenda setter. Losing the media may well be convenient for the powers that be; but it is definitely not in the interest of democracy itself. To this end, any serious reform aimed at 'protect- ing journalism' must also tackle the current, existen- tialist threats. Truth be told, commercial media houses in Malta have suffered a drastic drop in income, as a result of COVID. A return to normality appears nigh to impossible, as consumer patterns were altered sig- nificantly by the pandemic: hastening the shift from printed newspapers to online content, where adver- tising money remains tight. If media houses are to employ journalists to pro- duce quality content, they need to make money; and already the sector witnesses an incredibly high turnover in human resources, partly as a result of the high stress that comes with it. Simply put: to ensure that the good people remain, they have to be paid well. And while this may seem like a common com- plaint – if nothing else, because the pandemic has similarly affected other commercial sectors – the reality is that the 'fourth pillar of democracy', that we are now so keen to enshrine in the Constitution, also needs financial assistance if it is to survive. Moreover, it does not bode well for Malta's de- mocracy that the media faces an existential threat. The disappearance of media houses – which, for all their flaws, are still characterised by a strong jour- nalistic ethic – will only result in a poorer public sphere. In brief: any media reform package aimed at 'safe- guarding journalism in Malta', would also have to consider State aid – which can come in the form of grants, assistance for training and investment, and tax relief for media workers – as well as government transparency on how it disburses advertising. For it is ultimately useless to give journalists all the legal tools to carry out their job better and more safely: if, owing to cut-downs on resources, and reduced operations… there are simply no journalists left at all. 27 November 2011 Malta's film industry braces itself for 'uncertain' 2012 FOLLOWING an extraordinarily successful 2011 - in which work on one film or televi- sion production or another was carried out practically on a daily basis throughout the year – there are as yet no fully confirmed new productions scheduled to start shooting in 2012. More ominously still in the eyes of the local industry, the Malta Film Commission website seems to be undergoing a subtle transformation, including the apparent re- moval of the 'Classified' section: which until recently featured a list of local production units and servicing companies, previously accessible online to all foreign producers interested in enlisting local professionals. Some of these developments seem con- sistent with what appears to be an overall change in policy direction at higher levels. Presenting Budget 2012, Finance Tonio Fenech (under whose portfolio the film industry falls) outlined a number of initia- tives aimed at establishing and promoting a local film industry: among which, the continuation of a programme of EU-funded basic courses in screen-writing, documen- tary-making and various other aspect of film and television productions, which com- menced this year. But apart from announcing that next year's European Film Awards will be hosted in Malta - a development which he claimed would bolster Malta's image as a film loca- tion for foreign productions, but which ac- tually boils down to a decision taken in 2010 – there was no indication of any discernible strategy to continue attracting high-level productions to shoot in Malta. While welcoming initiatives to bolster a local film-making industry, local profes- sionals have stressed that progress in this area need not come about at the expense of another, arguably more lucrative side to the business: the film servicing industry, which aims to provide logistical support to foreign productions shot in Malta. ... Quote of the Week "No group is entitled to the presidency of the parliament as such. We don't have to yield the presidency, because it does not belong to any political party." Socialist MEP and S&D president Iratxe Garcia Perez sends warning to the EPP on their expectations to install Roberta Metsola to the post of EP president MaltaToday 10 years ago

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