Oh look... a request to ban the publication of a book

Saviour Balzan | The heavy hand of insisting that every book seller in Malta cease to sell a book, to me is quite a lame and deceptive excuse intended instead to have the publication spiked

The other day, I received a harshly-worded legal letter from the son of a prominent Nationalist politician. It called on me, as publisher, to withdraw Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s memoirs, With All Due Respect, which was published by our publishing house Choppy books. 

The legal letter claimed that the book had used cartoons depicting Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, that belonged to the estate of the late cartoonist Maurice Tanti Burlò,  and the letter called on me and all book distributors and bookshops to stop the sale of the book in Malta and Gozo. 

Love him or hate him, Pullicino Orlando is actually quite the correct and meticulous individual, even on such matters like copyright. Before reproducing pictures, cartoons and illustrations he checked copyright issues. As it turns out, the cartoons by the late Maurice Tanti Burlò featuring Pullicino Orlando himself were in fact part of his private collection, having acquired the cartoons for a handsome price from Tanti Burlò himself. 

I too had acquired a collection of Tanti Burlò cartoons, commissioned when I had campaigned for Malta to become a member of the European Union. 

But the point is that the Tanti Burlò family might be unaware that the cartoons were purchased and belonged to Pullicino Orlando; or perhaps the lawyers failed to appreciate that the cartoons served to illustrate the political controversy that Pullicino Orlando was at the centre of (this being indeed a book about those very same facts). 

From experience, copyright-holders tend to be more straightforward about their requests on such matters – traditionally it comes in the form of a request for payment. 

Yet here I suspect that some member of the Tanti Burlò estate is not solely after their pound of flesh, but to obtain a total ban on JPO’s publication, a book that has ruffled a few feathers in the old Nationalist establishment, for it is indeed a kiss-and-tell on the former Gonzi administration, and the friendships and feuds with such protagonists as the late Daphne Caruana Galizia and the redoubtable Richard Cachia Caruana. 

One need not walk over high mountains and deep rivrs to suspect that some member of the Tanti Burlò estate, perhaps the illustrator-son Seb Tanti Burlò, has quite the low opinion of Pullicino Orlando. Be that as it may, it strikes me as controversial that in a climate where the Maltese press comes under threat of SLAPPs or where censorship and press freedom are such matters of national importance in these days, that Tanti Burlò would attempt to use a legal firm to stop the nationwide distribution of a book... because its author used a Tanti Burlò cartoon from his private collection, to illustrate a page. 

I wonder... which kind of “freedom of expression” do some people subscribe to? I can understand how one may inquire on copyright matters ahead of taking legal action; but the heavy hand of insisting that every book seller in Malta cease to sell a book, to me is quite a lame and deceptive excuse intended instead to have the publication spiked. 

Are we saying that someone who bought a Picasso for 10 million dollars cannot have their acquisition publicised anywhere because of the Picasso estate’s copyright? Of course, I look forward to fight of this attempt at censoring a book by taking off the shelves. Censorship cannot be selective... but I’m not counting on any prima donnas to give this legal action the middle finger, of course. 

Having said that... avail yourselves of the Pullicino Orlando book now – it’s a great read! 

€12 million left... 

The news that €12 million in COVID vouchers have not been used up comes as no surprise. They probably refer to the thousands of foreign workers who no longer live here or have changed their rental address. 

The government decided to extend the time limit for the use of vouchers – a financial contribution by government in the COVID pandemic. This generosity is not entirely commendable: why should people be issued vouchers when theere is no clear need for them, especially now in the post-vaccination phase of the pandemic? 

Indeed, if anything there should be some form of means-testing on such unfettered spending. Salaried, government workers surely had no impact brought upon them by reduced wages during the pandemic. Sure, the vouchers did keep the economic ball rolling, but an over-generous extension, pre-Budget, when COVID itself has no expiry date, sounds opportunistic. 

I can say that on Friday I attempted to book a restaurant: in five restaurants, one after the other, all were fully booked. Clearly, everyone is making good use of the vouchers, welcome news for the catering and hospitality industry, but I can think of other sectors that are still suffering. 

Extending the vouchers for an extra month in the hope that €12 million from the public coffers are spent raises the question on how State intervention should be adopted in helping those in need, who need serious help, especially when this case is coming out of our taxes... and when this money is going to people irrespective of whether they are millionaires or minimum-wage earners, or if they have left the island to go back to their homes elsewhere. 

When a large segment of self-employed and small businesses did not even achieve the status of receiving a COVID wage supplement, I could think of a few ideas of how to spend €12 million to keep businesses running.