The Maltese Government announced that it is tabling a Bill for consultation to be known as the Media and Defamation Act, with the intention of superseding and replacing the current Press Act. The Act aims at providing for the updating of the regulations and defamation matters and proposes a new set of definitions which would prove to be highly relevant to the local ICT sector.
This new legislation is set to update definitions pertaining to authors, broadcasts, defamation, editors, printed words, publications and websites. One has to keep in mind that the current Press Act was enacted in 1974, before the dawn of the digital age and while this Bill proposes a focus on digital means, the current law targets printed media in particular. The Media and Defamation Bill is also set to abolish criminal libel in media laws and sets to remove the current right to issue any precautionary warrant of seizure, warrant of seizure of a commercial going concern or garnishee order in security of any right or claim against any person for damages for libel or any other defamation under any law.
Amongst other innovations, the new Media and Defamation Act introduces the concept of mediation before court, where in an action of defamation, the Court shall appoint a preliminary hearing within 20 days to decide if an agreement can be reached through an apology, thus limiting resorting to court proceedings. The Act would also increase the quantity of moral damages from the current €11,000 to €20,000 and incitement against the President of the Republic, from €1,164 to €5,000.
With respect to the protection of sources, the Bill aims at protecting sources of “editors, publishers, broadcasting services or websites registered with the media registrar” or in other cases “only if the author habitually exercises the profession of journalist on a full-time or part-time basis”. Other features of this Bill are the introduction of the concept of defamation of deceased persons, in the cases where defamatory statements are made within 10 years of the deceased person’s death and also the establishment of the media registrar, who would keep a media register for the purpose of registration of newspapers and websites, signalling a shift to the focus on modern media such as websites – to be defined as “any web-based service relating to news or current affairs that operates from Malta or in respect of which editorial decisions are taken in Malta”.