The only way to guarantee press freedom is stop regulating it altogether

Published: February 16, 2017 at 6:45pm

You don’t even need a specific press law for libel because libel can take place in many forms, including by email, so what you actually need is a libel law and leave the press alone.

That’s what freedom of expression is. The compulsion to regulate grows from the idea that freedom is wrong. But it isn’t. It’s a human right. There is no organisational need to regulate. Instead of putting a rocket beneath that ancient anachronism of having newspaper editors formally obliged to register with the government’s Department of Information, they’re widening the net to include websites. The thing to do here is to drop the obligation for newspapers, not to add the obligation for websites.

Another thing they have got to do away with is the ridiculous system of government-issue press cards. Do people even begin to understand how crazy that system is? It was meant originally as a press card that let you in to government press conferences – because we always think big in Malta, and the Auberge de Castille is the White House or Downing Street, with reporters who might be assassins or terrorists in disguise. And along the way it morphed into a general-use press card, which Maltese journalists use as their personal press card rather than just as a press-pass for government business.

I’m sick to the back teeth with writing about this farce, and I see no mention anywhere in the new bill of how they are going to drop the system. My face is all over the place, I can barely leave the house without bogans snapping pictures of me on their phones and sending them to that obese drunkard at the Auberge de Castille, and yet if I turn up to a government press conference, they want to see my Department of Information press card. Because the press card has gone from being proof of identity as a reporter to a licence to enter and ask questions.

And the Department of Information will only give me that licence to enter government press conferences if a sign a document declaring myself to be the owner of this website – as though it makes a difference to them who owns the website, or it’s somehow relevant.

We’ve fallen into the trap already of getting so involved in discussing the government’s bill on regulating the press, talking about how it should be changed, that we haven’t stopped to see the obvious: why have any regulation at all?

  • Leon Caruana

    Muscat is getting more delusional by the day and the Labour Party’s instinct has always been to restrict and muzzle opinion rather than the opposite.

    A rather scant consolation, but it is probably EU membership that keeps the reins on the Labour government from going for further restriction.

    And Muscat has the cheek to talk about tarnishing Malta’s reputation. Where the hell in a civilised country is such registration required, apart from Russia?

  • Mario

    But it’s OK to tarnish the country’s reputation by having ministers of state opening companies in Panama, with the declared aim of depositing monies from consultancy fees and commissions amounting to at least a million per annum.

  • Clive Brockdorff

    This is one of the worst things that a government – any government – could do. In it lie the roots of further evils.

  • Melissa

    I guess next they will propose The Patriot Act.

  • Viva la Sicilia

    Freedom of expression is a privilege that belongs to the public in a democracy, not only to journalists.