Online hate speech on the rise in Malta, confirms EFJ report

The Media Pluralism Monitor reported an overall medium to high risk for media pluralism in Malta in 2019. It said that Malta is in need of an overhaul in the public service media regulation if it is to suitably restore and safeguard the role of a recognised and respected public service. Online hate speech, generally racist or misogynistic, or both, is on the rise, and the lack of media participation of the concerned groups is only exacerbating the situation said the report.

The 2020 Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM2020) published by the European Federation of journalists carried out in 16 countries including Turkey and Lithuania, in general, confirms mounting harassment against journalists, media outlets face increasing economic uncertainty, as online media sphere fails to reinforce pluralism. The report points out a deteriorating situation regarding the standards and protection of the journalistic profession. The Study confirms the trends observed in the media sector in the past years: journalists are more and more victims of harassment; the sustainability of the news industry is at risk across Europe, while the gatekeeping role of digital platforms is on the rise.

Each area of evaluation highlights shortcomings, in some cases scoring a very high risk, that need to be addressed, both in terms of the policy, as well as in practice, for the situation to improve. Over two and a half years have passed since the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and, as predicted in the previous MPM, this single event has had a chilling effect on journalism and media freedom in Malta. The manner in which Caruana Galizia was executed was also meant to send a clear message to all journalists who were covering similar stories, to remain silent.

With regard to Basic Protection, the situation with the law on the protection of whistle-blowers has yet to be amended for whistleblowers to feel safe in coming forward with information of wrongdoing and corruption. Journalists, too, need to put in place measures that would safeguard their professional independence, to protect their working conditions as well as strengthen their position in a world in which the independent media is increasingly coming under attack.

Another area of concern regards the Freedom of Information Act which, although on paper might seem to be in place, in practice has seen increasing complaints from newsrooms that the majority of requests are not being addressed adequately, or outrightly ignored.

In the Market Plurality area, as in 2018, the highest risks are largely related to the lack of monitoring and absence of data on the market shares of media companies, both legacy and digital, as well as information on newspapers’ circulation figures. Additionally, the only media authority in place only monitors broadcasting, and there is no equivalent for print or online media.

Of concern is the fact that there are also no clear safety measures to prevent the influence of commercial and/or political interests, a situation which is further aggravated by the fact that most media houses are struggling economically.

The area of Political Independence, continues to underline serious issues within the political party owned media scenario, as well as concerns over the lack of independence in Public Service Media governance and funding, as well as editorial independence, since all key positions are still directly appointed by the government. Malta needs an overhaul in PSM regulation if it is to suitably restore and safeguard the role of a recognised and respected public service. Social Inclusiveness sees particularly high-risk scores, especially with regards to representation of minorities, representation of persons with disabilities, and representation of women.