Freedom of expression in Malta, part 2

The ugly truth about censorship in Malta has been thrown into the spotlight again, as noted by this article from the Times of Malta website:

PBS blacks out politician shoe-hurling satire

The bit that really interested me was not the fact that the TV show described in the article was censored, but the reason why. Here’s a quote from the article:

The Press Act says that whoever uses “defamatory, insulting or disparaging words, acts or gestures” in contempt of the President would be committing a criminal offence liable to a jail term of up to three months or a fine.

There are so many things wrong with laws like this, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First of all, is the president so thin-skinned that we all have to tiptoe around him? Aw, diddums, did the widdle pwesident get his feelings hurt? There there, Mummy will put the nasty man in jail…

Secondly, regimes that seek to prevent public criticism of them (because that’s what’s going on here) are usually only too aware that they have taken, or are likely to take, actions that justify, or at least are likely to cause, such criticism.

Thirdly, as noted in the article by a spokesperson from the Maltese Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura (Front Against Censorship), preventing freedom of expression in the form of political satire is actually unhealthy in a modern democracy, as it stops people from challenging sacred cows and the cult of personality (which is very strong in Malta).

Fourthly, a regime that prevents criticism of its president would probably be less hesitant to prevent all criticism of itself and its policies – the first step has been taken, after all. After that it’s a slippery slope to totalitarianism.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: freedom of expression must be absolute in order to be safeguarded without erosion.

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