A new bill to enhance the freedom of artistic expression has been approved by Malta’s parliament.
The Maltese House of Representatives recently unanimously approved a new bill aimed at strengthening freedom of artistic expression, following its third reading on 12 July. The bill aims to protect artists from prosecution for their work. It introduces new provisions to the Criminal Code and the Electronic Communications Act, stating that the law “shall not hinder artistic, satirical or comic expression“. The bill was originally introduced in June 2023 by Owen Bonnici, Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, and Byron Camilleri, Minister for Home Affairs, Security, Reform and Equality.
In a press release issued by Malta’s Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government and the Ministry for Home Affairs, Security, Reforms and Equality in June 2023, following the first reading of the Bill, the Ministers stated that “the government believes that artists should be allowed to express themselves in the broadest possible manner when it comes to their cultural expression” and that “the justice system should not become a tool in the hands of those who want to stifle the arts and freedom of thought“. The bill states that artists whose work contains elements that could be interpreted as threats or insults can only be taken to court if their actions are considered “credible and realistic“. Another key change is that statements published online will not lead to legal action if they are considered to be part of “artistic, satirical or comic expression and do not include credible and realistic threat to the personal liberty or security of any person or to a person’s property“.
The references to ‘credible’ and ‘realistic’ are to be taken into account by the police and the judiciary in interpreting the threats for which complaints can be made.
The bill comes after prominent artists in Malta faced legal action following numerous reports to the police by the pastor of an evangelical religious organisation.
The Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association (MEIA) welcomed the development and supported the authorities’ efforts to protect artistic expression. The association noted that artists and creative producers should be “mindful of the checks and balances that exist in the law” and expressed hope that “any abuses in the new framework” would be addressed accordingly.
In a social media post, the Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, Hon. Owen Bonnici, commented that the Bill represents the highest level of protection and freedom for artistic expression in Malta’s history.