After Stitching ban, self regulation comes officially into force

New law for self regulation of theatre productions comes into force one day from the confirmed 'ban' on Anthony Nielsen's Stitching.

The censorship board's reasons to ban the play Stitching have been confirmed by an appeals court, even though it no longer holds under the new self regulation regime.
The censorship board's reasons to ban the play Stitching have been confirmed by an appeals court, even though it no longer holds under the new self regulation regime.

Just 24 hours following an appeals court judgement that upheld a 2009 ban dished out by the now-defunct Stage and Film Classification board for the play Stitching, the ministry of culture has announced it has published the legal notices enabling a new self regulation regime.

The law dismantling the censorship board, whose ban on Anthony Nielsen's Stitching caused such a furore to lead to its demise, was passed on 2 November but are now formally in place with the publication of legal notices that define the new procedures for film and stage classification; and the amendment of the Code of Police Laws. 

Under the new legal system Malta's stage and theatre classification practices were amended to allow for self-classification for theatrical productions.

The role of the state-appointed board to classify dramatic and other stage productions has been removed, leaving the responsibility for classification in the hands of the producer and director of the theatrical production. They will be responsible to ensure that any applicable laws and regulations are respected.

A Theatre Guidance Board is also being established, with one of its tasks being that of assisting producers and directors who seek its counsel to suggest appropriate age-classifications for their stage productions, or confirming the age-classification given in the first instance.

In the area of film, a new Board of Film Age-Classification will be responsible for the classification of films, in line with international practices in this field of cultural production, as well as publish the reasons for such classification or other pertinent information that might assist film audiences in making an informed choice before deciding to watch a film.

A Review Board shall be created to hear appeals from a classification applicant in connection with the age-classification given to a film.

The changes are the result of a process that started in January 2012 with a public consultation to discuss the Ministry for Culture's proposed amendments to the classification systems for cinema and theatre.

The culture ministry said the updating of the law is one of the completed measures of the National Cultural Policy which was issued last year by the Government.

The ministry has also set up a working group chaired by Judge Giovanni Bonello former member of the European Council of Human Rights, on matters relating to freedom of expression in the context of literary and artistic works.  The working group is in the process of finalising proposals related to possible changes to legislation or administrative practices regulating them.

The producers of the play Stitching are going to file a case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, appealing a court judgement which today upheld the first court's ban by the now-defunct Stage and Film Classification board.

Director Adrian Buckle said he was "very disappointed" but "not totally surprised".

"We believe that the judgement is severely flawed on several grounds. Worse yet it creates a dangerous precedent which creates a sword of Damocles over every artist's head."

Buckle said he was "shocked" at the level of incomprehension shown by the court in basing its judgement on a script but not the performance itself.

"Malta is the only country in the world which has allowed a play to be banned without ever having seen a performance. Even in the worst period of the Communist Eastern Bloc or Fascist Spain, the censors and the court realised that they could only pass judgement on a production, not a script, if they saw the need to ban it," Buckle said.