Anti-censorship front says new film rules authorise ‘morality censorship’

Front welcomes rules, but says censorship rules still give power to stop film showings on grounds of morality.

Mark Camilleri was charged with obscenity over the publication in  university pamphlet of a short-story by writer Alex Vella Gera.
Mark Camilleri was charged with obscenity over the publication in university pamphlet of a short-story by writer Alex Vella Gera.

The Front Against Censorship has welcomed new rules for self-regulation of audience classification for theatre productions, but it said the proposed film regulation is unsatisfactory and still not free from the elements of censorship pervading the Maltese arts scene.

"We agree with the end of theatre censorship and the start of self-classification by the producer of the performance," spokesperson Ingram Bondin said.

"However, the Front is worried that the non-binding nature of the guidance board's classification is not properly codified in the legal notice, since article 17(4) states that the producer shall assign the classification 'in line with the guidelines issued by the guidance board'. The Front believes that this should be improved to enshrine the inviolable right of a producer to give a rating different from that of the guidance board."

Under the new rules, a four-member guidance board, which replaces the film and stage classification board, will issue guidelines to be adopted by stage producers when awarding an age-classification to the production and to assist producers who seek its counsel by suggesting appropriate age-classifications for their stage productions, or confirming the age-classification given by the producer and director in the first instance.

Bondin also the Front was disappointed with the reform in film classification, with the new rules giving the board the power to classify films and even censor them on the basis of 'morality, decency and propriety generally acceptable by reasonable adults'.

"The experience of the past two years shows that these ambiguous notions have led to the censoring of various works based on very questionable criteria and which have subsequently caused a public outcry," Bondin said.

The draft amendments are still a first step towards reforming censorship laws in Malta, which also has laws outlawing blasphemy, pornography and obscenity in literature.

The Front is demanding the removal of the ability of the Film Age-Classification board to censor film. "We believe that it does not make sense to apply double standards between theatre and film, and that the removal of censorship should stem from the respect of the freedom of conscience of adults to be exposed to whatever they decide to be fit."

Under the new rules, the police can also suspend any film exhibition for reasons of public order or morality for fifteen days.

"During the past two years, public 'morality-like' laws have been used by the Police to effect censorship in a variety of unacceptable situations. Provisions for keeping the public order are already encoded in other bodies of law and do not therefore, have any place in this legal notice," Bondin said.

The Front will be submitting its formal reaction as part of the public consultation on the Legal Notice, and urged all citizens to exercise their democratic rights and make their submissions in order to ensure that the resulting law respects freedom of expression in theatre and film equally.