Swearing in public:
A case of double standards?
David Schembri

Going by the latest interpretation of the law, Isle of MTV performer Kid Rock should have been prosecuted for using a strong swear word on stage last Wednesday, according to lawyer Claire Bonello.

In his set on the Granaries, facing the lit St Publius Church, Rock aimed the word “mother*****s” at the 50,000 strong audience that included minors, although in that context it was not meant as insult.

He had just sung a song in which he proclaimed himself the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Jesus”.

His performance came a few days after Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon ruled that the censorship board’s decision to ban Anthony Nielsen’s play Stitching from being performed in Malta was justified.

The judge said it was unacceptable in a “democratic society founded on the rule of law” for any person, no matter what they did, to be allowed to swear in public – even in a theatre as part of a script.

According to our law, he said, the very fact that a person swore in public, regardless of the reason, was a contravention.

In comments to The Times, Dr Bonello said that in order not to discriminate against people such as the producers of Stitching, the logical conclusion would be to prosecute Kid Rock as well.

“There’s also a difference: when he uttered those words they weren’t part of an artistic representation, so even more, according to the recent interpretation, should he be prosecuted.”

This however, Dr Bonello said “would render us idiotic in everyone’s eyes”, making it clear she wasn’t that recommending Kid Rock be prosecuted.

Theatre critic Paul Xuereb found the singer’s language “unjustifiable”.

“This is worse than a play, because in plays these words are used to evoke an atmosphere, a mentality. In an occasion like (Isle of MTV) they simply use these words as bravado, to show how society’s norms don’t apply to them,” he said.

“But would you expect the police to stop them when the government has invested so much in something like this? They’re not going to ruin everything by going on stage and telling him not to use the word again. One has to be practical,” Dr Xuereb said.

Former tourism minister and lawyer Francis Zammit Dimech reasoned on the same lines, saying that while he found that kind of language to be “totally in bad taste”, the police had to act in a prudent manner and could not go on and interrupt the performance.

Asked whether there were any double standards being employed between local and international artists, he said anybody who was a theatregoer would know there were many instances of certain language and certain scenes being allowed in an artistic context.

“So the fact that one production in particular was withheld doesn’t mean there is a general persecution against the arts or local producers. We should always see things in their real context,” Dr Zammit Dimech said.

Writer Alex Vella Gera, who was arraigned for writing a story, Li Tkisser Sewwi, that contained explicit language and which was published on a banned edition of student newspaper Ir-Realta’, said double standards were obvious.

“Foreign artists can come and sing what they want but if it were a Maltese artist, who knows what might have happened?”

He said if the authorities were afraid of making fools of themselves by prosecuting, then it was not true they upheld the values they claimed to.

Questions sent to the police asking whether or not they would be prosecuting had not been answered at the time of writing.

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