On 24 November 2023, the CMPF co-organised a conference with the University of Malta focused on 'Strengthening EU instruments to safeguard journalism and media literacy'. This event took place following the resolution adopted by the European Parliament regarding the 'Rule of Law in Malta: 6 years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the need to protect journalists' in October 2023.
During the event, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola conveyed a message to thank the organisers and acknowledge the urgency to have ambitious legislation across the EU to guarantee journalists are effectively protected from harassment, safety issues, self-censorship, or any threat against their independence. Remembering Daphne Caruana Galizia, Metsola affirmed that “The ability of journalists to report freely on matters of public interest is not just important, but essential to any democracy”. She also stressed the European Parliament's commitment to champion new anti-SLAPP (Strategic lawsuits against public participation) directive to protect journalists, activists, academics, artists, and researchers from frivolous lawsuits intended to silence them.
Metsola’s intervention was followed by a discussion that addressed media pluralism and safety of journalists from different angles. CMPF Research Fellow Iva Nenadic presented the Media Pluralism Monitor as a research tool to move from evidence to action in the EU approach to protect media pluralism. She noted that even though there are many national peculiarities in this regard, unfortunately, there are many systemic issues shared across member states that make them European problems for which common solutions are needed. Oliver Money-Kyrle (International Press Institute) and Elda Brogi (CMPF Scientific coordinator) discussed the potential and strength of the proposed European Media Freedom Act, as an important step towards the European perspective and harmonisation of rules in safeguarding media freedom and pluralism.
Some of the persistent risks that have been documented over a decade of the Monitor’s implementation are vulnerabilities of editorial autonomy to political and commercial influences, insufficient transparency of media ownership, lack of independence of public service media, declining working conditions and safety concerns for journalists, and state advertising going to government-friendly media.
Discussants, including editors and journalists from leading news media in Malta, as well as civil society, academics, and human rights lawyers in the country, pointed out that ruling politicians, designated to provide an enabling environment for journalism, are frequently the ones who make the conditions for journalists more difficult, even dangerous. Politicians often use dismissive rhetoric to fuel social polarisation and to label journalists as 'theirs' or 'ours', undermining their watchdog role, which affects the public perception of journalism and its importance.
Journalists also encounter impunity for both crimes committed against them and for crimes they bring to light. Against this backdrop, where there is a lack of political will at the national level, the evolution of the current final negotiations of two important EU tools (the European Media Freedom Act and the Anti-SLAPP Directive) is expected to further protect journalism and the health of member states’ democracies.