Against Censorship and in Favour of Freedom of Speech and Expression
A Document Proposing the Abolishment of Censorship in Malta
On November the 9th of 2009 Europe celebrated an era of freedom by remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall which took place twenty years ago. It spelled the end of an era dominated by the oppression of ideas and social strife. Ironically, in Malta, a country which has been a member of the EU for six years, the artistic freedom to express oneself freely through criticism and artistic medium is gradually being suppressed. The wall does not exist physically but it certainly does in spirit.
Explicit and mandatory censorship of the arts and entertainment is being imposed heavily, mainly through the Courts of Malta which have no choice but to apply out-dated laws; the Malta Broadcasting Authority, the Board of Film and Stage Classification and also the University of Malta which is supposed to nurture artistic freedom and not suppress it. It is highly unacceptable and even offensive by EU standards, let alone by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that censorship is prevailing in Malta of the 21st century.
We are not referring to the censorship of hate-speech which maliciously belittles specific groups in society such as women, homosexuals, immigrants or other minorities with the intent to cause harm, but about censorship which only seems to defend and uphold the morality of the predominant religion in our society, or any other religion for that matter. We believe that the Catholic Church has a right to preach its values to society openly and freely. We will defend that right should it be denied in some form or other, directly or indirectly. We will never agree, however, that the values of the Church are the values of Maltese society in its entirety, despite the fact that the Roman Catholic faith is predominant. Just as much as the Church has a right to preach its values openly and freely so too does society and individuals have a right to express themselves in a free and unfettered manner. It is high time that in the 21st Century, the State of Malta and its citizens should be defending the fundamental freedoms of expression and conscience with pride and conviction, for freedom is the very cornerstone of democracy. It is indeed horrifying that the State still uses its executive arm to prosecute persons who express different views (even though offensive) from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Facts, however, paint a completely different picture. Last year alone, censorship has been imposed in several cases and forms, which include the prosecution of persons wearing religious vestment at the Nadur Carnival, the ban of the theatrical play called Stitching, the warning given to producers of a programme that showed a photoshoot taken at the Addolorata cemetery, so that the incident would not be repeated, the removal of unclothed mannequins from a shop window in Mosta, which were on display to symbolically demonstrate white slavery, the suspended prison sentence given to a young man for putting a clip of the Pope after a naked woman in an artistic video clip during a musical event and the ban of Issue 8 of Ir-Realta` from the University campus. The common theme in all these six cases is the attempt to suppress artistic expression that is not in line with a certain type of traditional morality.
The Front is concerned that certain anachronistic laws have been used a considerable number of times in a short period of time in what seems to be a wave of repression of artistic expression. This harassment and suppression against the freedom of expression and the arts must be stopped and hence we are proposing for the laws and institutions which are causing censorship and preventing the separation of Church and State to be changed. The Front Against Censorship is based on the principle that the legal apparatus of the State should not be used to enforce a certain type of morality over individuals. We feel that the choice is between a mature society open to debate about the culture it is producing, and a repressive and closed society where one cannot speak about that which is taboo.
Furthermore we agree with the proposal of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Doc. 11296 (8 June 2007) entitled ‘Blasphemy, religious insults and hate speech against persons on the grounds of their religion’ that:
“…national law should penalise expressions about religious matters only when such expressions intentionally and severely disturb public order and call for public violence or call for a person or a group of persons to be subjected to hatred, discrimination or violence.”
We also agree that:
“…freedom is not only applicable to expressions that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that may shock, offend or disturb the state or any sector of population within the limits of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Any democratic society must permit open debate on matters relating to religion and beliefs.”
For the full text see:
We are thus presenting five legal proposals to the Maltese Parliament to make effective the eradication of the Censorship Regime and to abide to one of the core European values, that of freedom of expression.
To remove Article 163 of the Criminal Code, put in effect in 1933, which states that:
“Whosoever by words, gestures, written matter, whether printed or not, or pictures or by some other visible means, vilifies the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion which is the religion of Malta, or gives offence to the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion by vilifying those who profess such religion or its ministers, or anything which forms the object of, or is consecrated to, or is necessarily destined for Roman Catholic worship, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from one to six months.“
This act is a direct attack on criticism against the Roman Catholic Church, on artistic freedom, on Carnival festivities and on anyone who would like to satirically present Roman Catholicism for critical and/or artistic purposes.
To change the definition of pornography in article 208 of the Criminal Code and de-criminalise it. Under the current law that which is “obscene and pornographic“ is decided by a particular parliamentary committee. The only time this committee met was in 1975. The definition given was “Work is obscene or pornographic when its dominant feature is the exploitation of, or unnecessary emphasis on, sex, criminality, fear, cruelty and violence.“ We propose that this definition should be changed to any product which graphically depicts sexual acts with the intent of causing sexual arousal. The distribution and production of pornography should not be illegal as long as it does not involve human trafficking, the abuse of minors, the exploitation of the human person or any other criminal acts defined by law.
Under the present law there is a prison sentence of not more than six months or a fine of not more than (yo yo yo over here ut in the euro sign ffs cant find it)465.87, or a prison sentence and fine together. This sentence is given for “The distribution, acquisition, circulation, manufacture, printing, import or export of pornographic or obscene printed materials, drawings, photographs, film, books, card or writing…etc.“ This means that under these criteria classical literature found inside libraries is illegal. Among other things it also means that the Maltese artist is bound by law concerning what he can include in his fiction.
To remove article 7 of the Press Act which states that:
”Whosoever, by any means mentioned in article 3, directly or indirectly, or by the use of equivocal expressions, shall injure public morals or decency shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine or to both such imprisonment and fine.”
This article can be used against literature which deals with erotic and sexual issues such as it is being used in the case against Ir-Realta’. However obscenity is also subjective to the individual and can not be defined objectively by means of the law.
To abolish the role of a centrally-appointed Classification Board for theatre performances and to establish a set of criteria for self-classification in the performing arts based on a consultation exercise among the performing arts community. All classification systems (including self-classification for performances and classification for cinema) are to be based on a list of established and transparent criteria, which should be made publicly available, and which should be re-evaluated from time to time in the light of international developments in these art forms.
To remove the wording of article 13 of the Broadcasting Act which states that ”nothing is included in the programmes which offends against religious sentiment, good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling” and replace it with a paragraph which allows such mentioned content from 10pm onwards. Such content is already widely accessible to the people on Italian and other foreign television channels, making it de facto legal, and thus there is no reason why such content has to be banned from Maltese television stations. Therefore this law is discriminatory against Maltese television stations that can have great difficulty to compete with international competitors, even in the local market!