Bill protecting artistic expression receives unanimous parliamentary approval

Bill aimed at protecting artists from prosecution over insults and threats made through their work approved by parliament

Parliament (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
Parliament (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

A Bill aimed at protecting artists from prosecution over insults and threats made through their work has been approved by parliament.

The Bill, titled the Act to Strengthen the Freedom of Artistic Expression, received unanimous approval by the House, and now needs the President’s signature to become law.

It was tabled in the House last month by Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.

The legal changes came after a raft of criminal complaints by River of Love pastor Gordon John Manché against a number of artists.

Satirist Matt Bonanno faces criminal charges and up to €50,000 in fines over a Facebook post from last year about evangelical Christian group River of Love. Stand-up comedian Daniel Xuereb was also contacted by the police last week, and charges were filed against him after commenting about the pastor during a comedy routine earlier this year.

Teatru Malta artistic director Sean Buhagiar was also questioned by the police for repeating previous quips from satirists against Manché. 

With reference to the Criminal Code, the provision criminalising insults and threats will be qualified and include an interpretation to “allow for the freedom of artistic expression”. The amendment goes further and specifies that the paragraph criminalising insults and threats “shall not hinder artistic, satirical or comic expression which does not include any credible and realistic threat to the personal liberty or security of the complainant or to his property”.

The references to ‘credible’ and ‘realistic’ are meant to give the police and the judiciary elements on how to interpret the threat that is being complained about.

A similar amendment is being proposed to the Electronic Communications Act to prevent spurious complaints.

Government said the objective of the proposed changes is to “enhance the protection of artistic expression” and prevent the “misuse of the criminal justice system for the suppression of such form of expression”.

READ ALSO: Facebook commentor is fourth person charged in Gordon-John Manché fallout