Two independent journalists in Malta are raising the alarm about attacks on freedom of speech ahead of their scheduled court appearance to answer for their recent interview with a Christian who left his homosexual lifestyle.
Editor Mario Camilleri and journalist Rita Bonnici of PMnews Malta were slapped with a prosecution order after conducting an interview last year with Matthew Grech, a 33-year-old Christian who explained that he abandoned homosexual behavior because of his faith.
Camilleri, Bonnici and Grech face charges of allegedly advertising conversion therapy in violation of Article 3 of Malta’s Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender and Gender Expression Act, which makes it “unlawful for any person” to “advertise conversion practices.” The offense carries €5,000 in fines or up to five months in prison.
According to a transcript of the interview, at no point did Grech invite anyone to attend therapy to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, but explained how he came to believe that homosexuality is not an identity, but rather a practice that was incompatible with his Christian faith. Both Camilleri and Bonnici at times pushed back against some of Grech’s assertions during the interview.
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Bonnici said her outlet launched in part as a response to the clampdown on information amid the pandemic and interviewed a doctor who questioned the government’s response to it, which she believes put a target on their back even before the interview with Grech.
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“We were asking questions as individuals at that time, and we didn’t have any media supporting us,” she said. “So we decided to get our own media and to give voice to people who would like to ask questions and share experiences of what they were going through.”
“I think that we got targeted because we believe in freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of choice most of all. But it seems that because we are allowing this to happen, they are trying to do whatever they are doing to keep our mouth shut.”
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Camilleri said that in addition to the anonymous complaints over the Grech interview that have landed them in court, PMnews Malta has also faced suppression on Facebook. He noted Maltese press has been silent on their case, but he is confident they will win. “We are going to fight it at all costs until our last drop of blood as all this goes against the fundamental right of speech,” he said.
Rodolfo Ragonesi, a Maltese journalist and researcher who has contributed to PMnews Malta, said in recent years “there has been pushback against freedom of speech on these islands, and in Europe in general.”
“And unfortunately, even though the free press is supposed to be there to basically keep power under control, it’s not been happening. And what we’ve been seeing in the last two or three years is that a lot of the media outlets in this part of the world have become compromised and captured simply because they haven’t been doing very well financially.”
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Ragonesi noted the difficulty outlets around the world are facing from the power of Big Tech, which he said is “in bed” with state actors via government grants to establish “fact-checking” algorithms.
“So rather than acting to be a watchdog, as it were, rather than speaking truth to power, they’re pandering to power, and this news outlet is one of the very few that’s actually pushing in its way to guarantee a bit of freedom of speech,” he said.
Ragonesi, who is also an attorney involved in a constitutional case against the country’s superintendent of public health, believes that the state of free speech in Europe has not been under so much threat since the end of World War II.
The case against PMnews Malta especially indicates “the whole ethos of media has changed,” he said.
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“I’ve had the opportunity to be involved as a correspondent submitting pieces on international law, international affairs, research and history for over 20 years, and I’ve seen how the media here in Malta has started to close ranks and started to carry out some censorship of others,” he said.
“I think that what we used to see as taking a bit of initiative, to speak truth to power,” he continued. “That’s not happening the way it used to, and that is a cause of major concern.”
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“Independent of the subject matter, I think it’s a bit of a first for Malta that a news outlet is being dragged into court because they have organized a program on a subject,” he added. “It’s absurd.”