Culture Minister sticks to his guns: 'Carnival float was defamatory and contained hate speech'

Culture Minister Jose Herrera defends the decision to ban a float from participating in the official Valletta carnival parade after legal advice suggested it was defamatory and constitued hate speech 

Culture Minister Jose Herrera says satire does not mean attributing untrue facts to an individual
Culture Minister Jose Herrera says satire does not mean attributing untrue facts to an individual

Jose Herrera has defended a decision to ban a controversial carnival float after legal advice obtained by the government suggested it was defamatory and constituted hate speech.

The carnival float linked Archbishop Charles Scicluna to a history of sex crimes, the Culture Minister told MaltaToday.

The carnival float was banned for participation in the Maltese carnival by the minister after it juxtaposed the head of the Catholic church with two horned cherubs and the name ‘St Joseph Home’, as well as inserting an LGBTQI rainbow in the pastiche.

Festivals Malta, a government agency, said that although artists enjoyed unprecedented freedom of expression, the legal parameters must always be observed and respected.

Prior to issuing the ban, the minister said that he sought out legal advice over the float.

Asked to differentiate between his claim that the float was defamatory and the satirical nature of the creation, Herrera said that one cannot attribute facts to an individual which are not true.

“If a student at a church school is caught dealing drugs, we shouldn’t perceive the Archbishop as a drug dealer just because he is the head of the institution… There is always a limit, and we shouldn’t tread maliciously on others,” Herrera said.

Asked whether the drastic action to ban the float meant that satire directed at the archbishop was completely out of line, the Culture Minister disagreed.

“I was parliamentary secretary in the justice ministry when the religious vilification law was removed from Malta’s legislation. I completely agree with satire depicting individuals in the public eye including politicians, myself included, but I do find an issue with promoting hate against an institution whatever it maybe,” he said.

READ ALSO: Religious vilification removed from Maltese law, Archbishop: ‘Lord forgive them…’

The team behind the float have also spoken up about the criticism directed at their design.

“The reference to St Joseph Home is not meant to be injurious. On the contrary, it is to do justice with those residents who previously lived there, and who suffered abuse, and who still have not received justice,” Rayvin Galea told TVM on Thursday.

Galea said that they had also sought out legal advice, and were told that the float was not in violation of the law.

His brother Etienne Galea, said that they had been working on the float for two months and had the approval of Festivals Malta.

“The only thing they told us, which was not in writing, is if we could remove the words St Joseph Home,” they said.

The Maltese Association of Social Workers has also said that linking Archbishop Charles Scicluna to the historic St Joseph Home child abuse saga was likely to cause distress to the home’s residents by depicting it as unsafe.

The director of the home, Fr Louis Mallia, also threatened legal action if the float had made its way to the streets of Valletta.  

“Just like other children, the children at the home will be celebrating carnival, and they will be quite shocked to see their home being made fun of on such a defamatory float,” Fr Mallia said.

One of the victims of the abuse scandal said that he found nothing wrong with the float. “If you’re a public figure this stuff is going to happen to you, like it happened with Joseph Muscat and others in the past. I don’t see anything wrong with it, it’s carnival,” Lawrence Grech told Lovin Malta.

Grech’s only criticism was that the float depicted the archbishop, rather than the priests who carried out the abuse.