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Malta is yet again in the international limelight for all the wrong reasons.

In a mock awards ceremony which is organised annually by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe – known as CASE – Malta took home the award for the largest per capita amount of vexatious lawsuits which are intended to financially cripple public interest activism and journalism. SLAPP is an acronym for strategic lawsuits against public participation. The awards are given out based on decisions made by an independent jury.

The country award was given to Malta in the contest which was held in Strasbourg this afternoon, beating Croatia and Poland to the title. The competition is held to shine a spotlight on the worst offenders who use such lawsuits to deter scrutiny of their affairs. Awards are given to countries as well as specific individuals and/or entities who served some sort of role in these lawsuits, including ancillary entities like law firms which profit from such lawsuits.

Considering the invitation to government to accept the award would have probably been tossed into a shredder, Matthew Caruana Galizia received the award on behalf of Malta instead.

“I can’t really say that it’s much of a surprise. But the competition was really stiff. There are loads of cases in Poland, loads in Croatia. Malta wins on the per capita ratio, I suppose. We have the highest per capita ratio in the EU. And even though the government has voiced a commitment to doing something to stop the problem, it hasn’t actually done much in the past couple of years,” Caruana Galizia said during his speech.

The overwhelming majority of the SLAPP cases recorded in Malta are all linked with The Shift News’ ongoing court battle against the government following the latter’s blanket refusal of FOI requests about any and all contractual arrangements it has with the co-owner of MaltaToday, Saviour Balzan.

Balzan is known to have forged cosy ties with the Labour government and was recently at the epicentre of yet more scandal following major independent news outlets’ decision to form an association of media owners that includes political party propaganda outlets.

The association was widely criticised for its failure to disclose any information about its members or its operational structure, and the editorial branches of the three major independent news outlets which joined the association – MaltaToday itself, the Times of Malta, and the Malta Independent – all refused to acknowledge their direct links with political party outlets, redirecting all questions to their company’s commercial departments in an almost identical manner instead.

In fact, the government incurred tens of thousands of euros in court expenses to defend its refusal of The Shift’s FOI requests not only with the intent of financially crippling the newsroom but also, ultimately, to avoid the publication of the information itself.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation is one of several major European organisations which form part of CASE, a coalition that safeguards press freedom by, among other things, keeping track of SLAPP cases in Europe and across the globe. Through initiatives such as the mock awards night, the coalition raises the profile of journalists facing legal harassment in jurisdictions like Malta to provide visibility for their cases, drum up public support, and pressure governments and authorities who are either instigating or facilitating such legal harassment.

In his brief acceptance speech, Caruana Galizia also referred to the public inquiry board which was tasked with looking into the circumstances of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and the state’s active participation in the propagation of the climate of impunity that led to her assassination.

“In 2019 we started a public inquiry into my mother’s assassination. That inquiry recommended changes to the Maltese legal system to protect journalists, including protecting journalists and activists from SLAPPs. No changes have been made since then. We’re still waiting,” Caruana Galizia added.

You can view the full ceremony by clicking here.

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