The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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Government tables bill to provide ‘enhanced protection of artistic expression’ in Parliament

Sabrina Zammit Tuesday, 27 June 2023, 14:21 Last update: about 2 years ago

The government on Tuesday tabled a bill in Parliament proposing changes to the law “to provide for the enhanced protection of artistic expression and in particular to provide for the avoidance of the misuse of the criminal justice system for the suppression of such form of expression”.

The changes will come about after the police will be taking comedian Daniel Xuereb to court following a criminal complaint filed by River of Love Pastor Gordon Manche, who felt offended by comments made in his regard.

Xuereb was the second comedian this year to be criminally charged by police after making fun of Manché. In January, Matthew Bonanno, who runs the satirical news site Bis-Serjeta, was charged with making online threats after he implied that the evangelical group should be carpet bombed. 

Manché filed the criminal complaint about Xuereb at the Msida police station. Teatru Malta Artistic Director Sean Buhagiar was also reported to the police for repeating previous quips from comedians.

The summons sparked public outcry and the government immediately said that it would look into the matter to change the law to protect artistic expression.

This afternoon, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici presented the draft bill as being proposed by the government.

Freedom of expression, the bill says, will be protected and artistic, satirical or comic expression “which does not include any credible or realistic threat to the personal liberty or security of the complainant or to his property” will not be hindered.

The bill also provides for the protection of whoever makes or publishes statements on an electronic communications network or apparatus, which will not be deemed as being offensive “if they are uttered or published as part of artistic, satirical or comic expression and do not include credible and realistic threat to the personal liberty or security of any person or to a person’s property.”

Bonnici said that the law has a wide application, and covers all that is said or published in the spirit of satire on any medium.

During a press conference on Monday, Camilleri said that the government aims to pass these amendments prior to the suspension of Parliament for the summer recess.

"We want to live in a country which embraces the liberty of artists," he said. He added that since the government believes in artistic expression, it felt it is within its duty to act when such a freedom of expression is being threatened.

Camilleri said that sometimes art within itself can be 'excessive', however with the bill, if the artistic expression does not form any rational threat to their liberty and security "the artist should not end up in court for doing his job".

He said that the justice system should not be used as a tool against artistic expression.

Bonnici confirmed that this new amendment will not be limited to social media platforms but will also apply to online news and newspapers.

He was also asked whether such amendments are going to create a discrimination between the artist and any person who would like to express their artistic liberty.

In his, reply he compared the protection of sources available for journalists and said that just as much as a journalist needs these kinds of protections to do their job, so do artists.

However, he said that a distinction should be made when an artist is acting in the form of liberty of artistic expression "and when they are not".



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