Issues debated in the media in recent years
2009 brought an end to a major controversy on the planned extensions of the St. John’s Co-Cathedral museum in Valletta. The Foundation which manages the Cathedral with equal representatives appointed by the Prime Minister and the Archbishop made two alternative proposals to improve the quality of the museum environment and to increase the exhibition space for its vast rich collection including 29 tapestries. The plans were highly criticised by environmental and heritage NGOs due to the negative impact that they might incur to the site: that of building extra exhibition space in the courtyard which is also a burial site of St. John’s Cathedral or excavating chambers underneath St John’s Street and connecting them to existing subterranean water reservoirs. Public outcry was mainly fuelled by lack of public consultation on the project and the lack of Economic Impact Assessments that were not yet submitted by the Foundation. The Foundation also refused to consider relocating its collection in a building close to the Co-Cathedral claiming that the museum artefacts are the patrimony of the Co-Cathedral and should be displayed under one roof or within the same premises and should not be dispersed. The media gave prominence to the six month long debate which led the Prime Minister and the Archbishop to recommend to the members of the Foundation of St. John’s Co-Cathedral to abandon the project. The announcement came just a few hours before Parliament was due to debate an Opposition motion urging the government to withdraw its support for the project.
Even though the traditional feast of the patron saint in Maltese and Gozitan villages is often linked to communal celebration at a local level, in 2009 a national debate was sparked by the Archdiocese of Malta. A Church consultation document on the celebration of feasts in Malta’s towns and villages was launched on the 5th October by Archbishop Paul Cremona. The document tackles every aspect of the feasts and is aimed at removing pique and restoring the religious and community aspects of the celebrations.
The document also highlights the issue of the popular band marches which have often been criticised by the Church for their exaggeration, including the manner of dress, the songs and words that are chanted, the consumption of alcohol and the duration of the marches.
Festa enthusiasts have vociferously criticised the document, with leading anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain claiming in an interview to the Times of Malta that band marches are “secular activities” intended to entertain the public and since they fall outside the liturgical ritual of the feast, the Church has no reason to control them. Public order offences should instead be a matter for the police.
Royalties for Maltese music
The guild of Maltese Composers, Songwriters, Singers and Musicians (U.K.AM) in 2009 held an extraordinary general meeting to voice its concerns about the royalties which the collecting society PRS (Performing Rights Society) is bound to give to the rightful artists. Such complaints go back to 1991, clearly showing that the rightful writers at the time were not getting their dues and thus asking for P.R.S. to intervene.
PRS is licensed by the government of Malta to collect and distribute royalties to local artists and the society had collected an average of EUR 500 000 a year from Malta. PRS claims that of the total collection for 2007, over half (52%) was paid to Maltese songwriters and composers for the use of their music in Malta. However, UKAM claims that Maltese artists are still owed up to EUR 200 000 for 2007 alone, while the amount in unpaid royalties dating back to the 1990s still has to be quantified.
Government’s administration operates within a highly political environment and all public cultural organisations are not only led by politically appointed individuals at board level but most appointments in leadership positions are often also politically charged. These appointments carried out by both major political parties have often stirred a vociferous public debate on the expertise required to run public cultural organisations and the impact of such appointments on the future of the cultural sector. The new government was also elected on the call for meritocracy in such appointments, however this commitment was fairly criticised in the media since it was rarely implemented as promised to the electorate.