Sunday, 10 January 2010

Times: Censorship laws set for revamp - Draft policy to be launched in February

Sunday, 10th January 2010 by Christian Peregin

Laws related to freedom of expression need to be "updated to reflect 21st century reality" according to a draft National Cultural Policy to be launched in the first week of February.

A spokesman for the Culture Ministry told The Sunday Times the draft policy had been approved by Cabinet and included the recommendation that the ministry should start a process of updating Maltese legislation.

The news comes just two days after police confirmed they will be charging a 21-year-old history postgraduate, who is also editor of student publication Realtà, with offences connected with distributing obscene or pornographic material after he published a graphic short story containing sexual violence. Mark Camilleri could face a prison sentence if convicted.

Culture Minister Dolores Cristina said all legislation connected to censorship needed to be reviewed to "reflect the realities of today's society and its thinking".

However, this will have no bearing on Mr Camilleri who will dealt with under the existing law, which Ms Cristina said was "there for everyone".

When contacted, pro-rector for student affairs Mary Anne Lauri agreed that obscenity laws needed to be revised.

But until such laws are revised, the University was "dutybound" to follow them, Dr Lauri said.
The University rector banned the newspaper Ir-Realtà and reported the case to the police after it carried an article in Maltese written by Alex Vella Gera.

Dr Lauri said: "We are not passing judgment. But since there was a possibility he broke regulations, it was our duty to inform the police.

"If it emerges that he didn't break the law, then we are fine."

Dr Lauri pointed out that if the University ignored the law, it too would be liable, "because a Sixth Form parent can come to me and ask why we did not take action on this.

"The laws should be changed, but for everyone, not just for University or the students," she added.

Mr Camilleri said he never expected "so much hassle" when he chose to publish the first-person narrative about sexual violence.

He said the University authorities acted "irresponsibly and hypocritically", and when he tried to contact them to discuss the issue, he was always ignored.

"They are meant to be working in the students' interest, but instead they are doing a disservice to students. They didn't even have the decency to meet us," he said.

Dr Lauri confirmed the student asked her for support but she simply told him she had nothing to add after speaking with the rector.

However, Mr Camilleri said: "This was not the first time we published unconventional art that went against religious morality. Why are they taking such action now?"

Willing to join him in this fight is the president of the Chamber of Advocates Andrew Borg Cardona, who has offered his legal services online for free.

But Mr Camilleri's case has already been taken up in solidarity by lawyers Alex Sciberras and Lara Dimitrijevic. If they lose the case, they are prepared to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday called for the abolition of outdated "medieval-style" censorship and obscenity laws that are unacceptable by EU standards.

These should be replaced with a rating system to protect children and with laws against hate crimes and instigation of violence against people because of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender.

The rector could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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