Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Malta’s constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and of the press, but it limits these rights under a variety of circumstances. Laws against “vilification” of or “giving offense” to the Roman Catholic faith, the country’s official religion, have led to restrictions on expression. Maltese law criminalizes obscene speech, acts, and gestures with the aim of defending public morality. In June 2012, the criminal code and the Press Act were amended to include gender identity and sexual orientation, in addition to race and other categories, as prohibited grounds for hate speech. Journalistic protection of sources is safeguarded under Article 46 of the Press Act. In late 2013, Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera announced a legislative proposal to remove all censorship in the arts, but no changes had been enacted by the end of 2014.
Defamation is a criminal offense, and perceived victims have a legal right of reply. Civil libel cases are also common, with news outlets occasionally ordered to pay exorbitant damages. Malta continued to be plagued by libel suits in 2014, with three dozen criminal cases filed by lawmakers and other political figures. In July, the Justice Reform Commission made it a priority to change the procedural framework after it was revealed in Parliament that 185 libel cases were pending in the courts, with the oldest dating to 1997.
Many libel cases result in fines or jail terms. In June, a former editor for It-Torca was ordered to pay €5,000 ($6,800) to former Transport Malta chief executive Stanley Portelli for an image and article, published in 2012, about possible corruption at the agency. In November, Felix Agius, editor of the Labour Party weekly KullHadd, was fined €250 ($340) in a case brought by Richard Cachia Caruana, Malta’s former permanent representative to the European Union (EU), who accused the paper of defaming him in a 2001 article.
In 2012, Malta’s 2008 Freedom of Information Act went into full effect, allowing any long-term resident of the country to submit a request for public information. In March 2013, members of the information appeals tribunal resigned, causing a freeze in the already cumbersome appeals process. A new panel was appointed in January 2014. Media outlets continued to complain of ignored requests for information and an inefficient appeals process during the year.
The Broadcasting Authority regulates and monitors all radio and television broadcasts. Its members are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister, an arrangement that has been criticized for its potential to enable political influence.
Malta’s active independent media sector is free to convey a variety of opinions, though the opposition Nationalist Party has repeatedly complained of inadequate coverage by the Public Broadcasting Services, which it says amounts to censorship.
Malta is a physically safe environment for journalists, and there were no reported cases of threats or harassment in 2014.
There are at least five daily and two weekly newspapers publishing in Maltese and English. The major political parties, labor unions, private businesses, and the Catholic Church all have direct investments in broadcast and print media, and a number of these outlets openly express partisan views. The country also has access to international broadcasts and Italian television, which many Maltese watch. Traditional media outlets are available online, along with other news websites and popular social media. About 73 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.