The government believes in the crucial importance of artists and their role in our society. Artists know that they have the backing of a government which strongly believes in the vital role which the arts and creativity have – so much so that, as soon as it was known that a number of artists would be facing charges in court following a criminal report filed by a private citizen, the government immediately launched a legislative process for further reforms to keep strengthening artistic expression.
This is being done because this government walks the talk.
This was stated by Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government Owen Bonnici and Minister for Home Affairs, Security, Reforms and Equality Byron Camilleri during a press conference during which the bill to further strengthen artistic expression was published.
The bill has already been approved in the first reading last Monday by the House of Representatives.
It aims to enact safeguards to mitigate the incorrect use of the criminal justice system, which might stifle this form of expression.
In this regard, the amendments provide that as long as an artist does not communicate expressions which constitute credible and realistic threats to the plaintiff's freedom or personal security or his or her property, the law concerning the prohibition of insults and threats and the misuse of electronic communication must be interpreted by the law courts in such a way so as not to impede artistic, satirical or comical expression.
Minister Bonnici stressed that the government believes that artists should be allowed to express themselves in the broadest possible manner when it comes to their cultural expression. “We are walking the talk," Minister Bonnici said, while referring to the expeditious manner with which the necessary legal changes were pushed forward. This is because the government believes in the artists and that their creativity is vital for a dynamic and open society.
He said that when we speak about artistic expression we are also speaking about the place of work of artists. “Artists should not be treated as criminals for carrying out their work or profession," Minister Bonnici said, while stressing that artists should be valued and given every opportunity to express themselves artistically in the broadest possible manner.
Minister Byron Camilleri, in turn, said that the bill would protect artistic freedom while ensuring that the criminal justice system is not abused.
“We have taken this step because we do not envision a country with limited artistic freedom of expression. Art devoid of the freedom to express that particular art is no art at all. Artists can never be artists if they are restrained in their creativity because of an apprehension about ending up in court. That is the artists' endeavour, and certainly they should not be treated as criminals," stressed Minister Camilleri.
The Minister emphasised that one has to appreciate that art in all its forms, including satire, can, at times, be controversial. He said that he could never accept the irony that one can follow and laud foreign artists and satirists on television or the internet and then local artists and satirists in our country end up in court because they do precisely the same thing.
Minister Camilleri said that the justice system should not become a tool in the hands of those who want to stifle the arts and freedom of thought. “This bill shows that this is a reformist government, fearless in challenging the status quo," Minister Camilleri concluded.
After its publication, Parliament will be swiftly discussing the bill in the second reading.