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26th May 2019

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Maltese minister: 'We're not censoring the internet'

  • Malta's justice minister Bonnici (r) has come under fire recently for his governments moves to change the rules around defamation (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Ordinary Maltese citizens posting their opinion on social media or blogs will not be required to register under a proposed new defamation law, says Malta's centre-left minister for justice, Owen Bonnici.

The draft bill riled opposition MPs and was one of the reasons several thousand took to the streets last weekend.

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In an email exchange with EUobserver, Bonnici said the Maltese opposition's arguments that the bill would end freedom of expression online are “a complete untruth”.

Bonnici said that the opposition focused on just one aspect of the bill, which said that the editor of a news website would be required to register online.

“They claimed that in that way, the government will be censoring anything that is written online," he said.

“They also claimed that this provision will take Malta backwards and will end up equating Malta with dictatorial and autocratic regimes. The opposition's arguments are a complete untruth," he added.

Bonnici said that the aim of the bill was, in fact, to “increase freedom of journalistic expression”.

He said that the new bill “merely” proposed to extend a registration requirement that already exists for print and audiovisual media, to online news media.

He added that journalists had welcomed this change.

“I am informed that since the current press law, which was enacted years before the advent of the Internet, is completely silent on online news websites, e-journalists have faced along the years a number of practical problems in order to acquire a press card particularly if their news portal does not own an equivalent traditional medium (such as a sister newspaper or a sister radio station)," he said.

Maltese opposition MPs have said that the definitions of editor and websites would include ordinary citizens.

The draft law defined editors as “any person responsible for the publication of information, ideas or images on a website”. It defined 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”.

Bonnici denied that this definition covered people posting opinions or news on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs.

“This definition caters essentially for news portals and not for ordinary bloggers or users of social media,” he said.

He said it was “not the case and it was never the intention of the government, nor it will be” that private citizens would feel obliged to register.

Bonnici also noted that the draft bill could still be amended.

“The bill still needs to pass through a legislative process in the House of Representatives and any proposals to further tighten the definitions are welcome,” he said.

The Maltese parliament has scheduled to debate the bill at a plenary session on Monday (27 February).

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