Saturday, 16 January 2010

Times: 'God forbid' student editor goes to prison - Joseph Muscat

Monday, 11th January 2010 by Christian Peregin

Labour leader Joseph Muscat yesterday joined the chorus of criticism against censorship, saying that it was "unacceptable" for a student to be facing a potential prison term for publishing an "opinion" in a newspaper.

"I'm bringing this up now because we have been told there is the intention to take this person to court and possibly, God forbid, put him in prison."

Dr Muscat did not delve into the merits of the fictional article in question but said he was willing to defend the student's freedom of expression.

"Censorship is anachronistic... and having the authorities threaten a student with a prison term is unacceptable," he said, criticising the attitude of the authorities about this case.

Last week, the police confirmed they would be taking action against Mark Camilleri, a 21-year-old history student who published a graphic short story about sexual violence in the newspaper he edits, ir-Realta.

His newspaper was banned at University and Mr Camilleri is now being charged with distributing obscenities and "injuring" public morals.

The Ministry of Education and Culture has said it is planning a revamp of censorship laws, through a draft policy to be launched in February.

Labour's spokesman for culture Owen Bonnici said he welcomed the fact that the Culture Minister was now speaking "in no uncertain terms" about the need to update censorship rules.
"I'm saying this because, in the beginning, Dolores Cristina used to say censorship fell under the Justice Ministry," said Dr Bonnici, who has drawn up a Private Member's Bill about censorship.
He was also happy that, as far as he knew, the Minister's committee of experts had agreed with the removal of censorship, and he hoped that the Minister's recommendation to "update laws to reflect 21st century reality" would mean the abolition of censorship.

If the government does nothing about censorship by May, he will present his Bill.
"I am ready to collaborate as much as possible to create one Bill that satisfies everyone. I want to throw censorship out of the window completely but I want it to be a collective effort in Parliament," he said.

However, Dr Bonnici stressed that censorship in the domain of literary and artistic expression should not be confused with laws relating to indecency, obscenities and offensiveness.
"Those are laws that we've actually strengthened recently - especially when it comes to offending religion and gay people. Censorship is about a board which decides whether something should be allowed to be watched or not - such as in the case of the banned play Stitching."
When it comes to obscenity laws in the Criminal Code, he feels the police should "learn a lesson" from the case of Realta' so as not to prosecute individuals for their literary works.
He also feels that the decision of the University to ban the newspaper was "hugely obscene", especially in its context as a university.

"I was very surprised and I couldn't understand why it was banned. In foreign universities the first thing you see is a flier showing the President doing a moonie," he joked.
Although he felt the Realta' story actually had no literary value and failed to get its message across, he said it did not offend public morals and the case should be thrown out.

He said the criminal code empowers the police to take action on public morality but this should not be done in the context of a literary work - even if it is not of any value.

Meanwhile, Alternattiva Demokratika, which has already expressed solidarity with the student editor, said it was heartening to hear Dr Muscat and the Labour party "finally come on board" on the issue, showing real EU credentials.

"It is now time to pass from words to deeds and AD therefore expects the PL to present a private member's bill on the reform of censorship in Parliament in the coming days."

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

No comments:

Post a Comment