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23rd Feb 2020

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Malta anger over plans for web crackdown

  • Maltese bloggers may be required to register (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

A draft bill which aims to regulate online news in Malta has worried opposition politicians and added a motive for several thousands of Maltese to take to the streets on Sunday (19 February).

A protest organised by opposition centre-right Nationalist Party was against the government's handling of the Panama Papers scandal, but also against a proposed legislation which opposition leader Simon Busuttil said would be “the beginning of the end of freedom of expression on the internet”.

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The draft bill, proposed last week, would update Malta's defamation and libel laws. But its broad definitions have given rise to fear that ordinary citizens would be required to register before being able to express their views online.

Newspapers and broadcasters in Malta have been required to register with the government since 1975. Requiring news websites to also do that is “an extension of what exists today”, a statement by the Maltese ministry of Justice said.

In an editorial, the Malta Independent newspaper said it had no problem registering for its news website too.

“The problem arises when it comes to the countless other websites operated by Maltese nationals or companies or blogs that most of the time do not delve into news, but which may do so from time to time," the editorial said.

“For such people, the definition in the law is far too vague and should the law as it stands come into force, many people out there will be forced to think twice before commenting on current affairs of any sort.”

The draft law defined editors as “any person responsible for the publication of information, ideas or images on a website”, and websites as “any web-based news service or other web-based service relating to news or current affairs that operates from Malta or in respect of which editorial decisions are taken in Malta”.

That could include social media and personal blogs.

The text said that anyone who is an editor should within 10 days of becoming an editor provide the relevant Maltese authority with “his name and surname, a legally valid identification document number, age and place of residence”, and inform the authority of place of residence within ten days of moving.

“This is a restriction on Internet freedom and a future Nationalist government will repeal it if it gets approved by parliament," Busuttil told protesters in Valletta on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Malta, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU until mid-2017, will hold elections next year.

It was ranked 46th by Reporters without Borders on its World Press Freedom Index. It received a 96 percent score in the Freedom House ranking and the press freedom status label “free”.

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