The report by Article 19 and Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation released yesterday made an important point that deserves careful attention. That point is about the peril, wittingly or unwittingly, found within the draft legislation tabled in parliament by the government, which has the stated aim of enhancing protection for journalists in law.
One of the new measures holds that punishment for assault – causing “grievous bodily harm” in the words of the law – on a journalist would be an aggravated offence (punishment increased by one degree). Yet the problem with the law is that it does not define who is “journalist”.
This would lead to argumentation in court about whether a victim is a journalist or not, and what defines a journalist.
Would bloggers be considered journalists? Would an author of a satirical site be considered a journalist?
Or would you have to observe the rules of engagement of traditional journalists to be categorized as a journalist? Or be employed by a media outlet established as a media company or entity? Or would you have to have a press card issued by the Institute of Maltese Journalists?
Me, for example, I refuse to engage or become a member of the Institute of Maltese Journalists in its current dynamic. Its committee is made up of an assortment of working journalists who hail from different media outlets, including the partisan media, which makes a mockery of one of its objectives, to raise professional standards. Some of its members work for media outlets that do not actually adhere to standards of fair, objective reporting. Most tend to see the media landscape through the prism of their media outlet, making their individual interests or outlook narrow and conflicting.
We have to be careful that we do not end up with laws that will create a two-tier system of journalists in Malta and – in the process – actually undermine the sharper spectrum of journalism in Malta.
I do not like to blow my own trumpet – I firmly believe that a journalist should not get in the way of a story; I prefer to have my work speak for itself – but I like to think that I observe the standards of fair, objective reporting to a fault. I cannot say the same about most other journalists in Malta. I also like to think that at present I am the only journalist who mostly does investigative journalism in Malta.
Hence I agree with the report of Article 19 and Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation: that instead of putting the word ‘journalist’ in the law, the provision has to be changed to make it apply to all instances in which any person would be ‘exercising [his/her] right to freedom of expression’ when assaulted.
The same applies for amendments to the Constitution: enhancement of the role of journalism in Malta has to be put in the general principles at the beginning of the Constitution, not in specific articles that will in court give rise to arguments about whom could be defined as a journalist, hence whom is subject to enhanced protection in law.
Featured image credit: istockphoto.com/BRO Vector