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.
The public broadcaster PBS is the most popular television channel, followed by TV stations owned by political parties. Three independent, traditional newspapers (Times of Malta, Malta Independent and Malta Today) are joined by online news portals and blogs. v
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 is not conducive to journalists exercising their rights. Independent media are discriminated against in access to information and journalists are targets of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Family members of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in 2017, are targeted by 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.
None of the suspects arrested for the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia have been tried and convicted. Although the public inquiry recognized that “the state has to shoulder responsibility for the assassination (of Daphne Caruana Galizia), because it created an atmosphere of impunity”, the recommendations resulting from the inquiry are being implemented too slowly. Law enforcement institutions lack resources to effectively protect journalists who continue to face threats with impunity.