The Malta parliament last week unanimously approved a significant Bill known as the “Act to Strengthen the Freedom of Artistic Expression.” This Bill was tabled in the House last month by Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri. It aims to shield artists from legal action arising from insults and threats conveyed through their creative works.
The approval process in the House was unanimous, and the next step for the Bill is obtaining the ItPresident’s signature to be enacted into law. The key aspect of the Bill involves amending the Criminal Code, where the section that penalises insults and threats will now include an interpretation allowing for the “freedom of artistic expression.” The amendment also explicitly states that this particular section “shall not hinder artistic, satirical, or comic expression” as long as it does not contain credible and realistic threats to the complainant’s personal liberty, security, or property.
The inclusion of the terms “credible” and “realistic” provides guidance to law enforcement and the judiciary on how to assess the nature of the alleged threat. Moreover, there are plans to introduce a similar amendment to the Electronic Communications Act, which aims to deter baseless complaints.
The government’s objective in proposing these changes is to strengthen the protection of artistic expression and prevent the misuse of the criminal justice system to suppress such creative forms of expression. This move emphasises the importance of safeguarding artistic freedom while balancing it with the need to maintain public order and safety.
This development holds essential lessons for African countries and demonstrates the need to strike a delicate balance between protecting artistic freedom and ensuring legal responsibility. The Bill’s core objective is to shield artists from potential prosecution over insults and threats conveyed through their creative works. To achieve this, amendments to the Criminal Code have been proposed, specifically targeting the provision criminalising insults and threats. These amendments now include an interpretation that allows for the “freedom of artistic expression.” However, it is crucial to note that artistic expression should not infringe upon the personal liberty, security, or property of others. To provide clarity on how to interpret such threats, the amendments introduced the terms “credible” and “realistic.”
Moreover, the Malta government aims to prevent the misuse of the legal system to suppress artistic expression by proposing similar changes to the Electronic Communications Act to deter spurious complaints. By doing so, they seek to protect artists from unnecessary legal harassment and safeguard their right to express themselves creatively.
This development underscores the significance of promoting diverse artistic expression and creativity within society. By offering legal protection to artists, countries foster cultural appreciation and understanding, encouraging open dialogue and debate on various societal issues. Moreover, it strengthens democratic principles by upholding the values of freedom of speech and thought.
African countries can learn from this progressive approach and consider enacting similar legislation tailored to their unique cultural and legal contexts. By doing so, they can create an environment that nurtures a thriving creative community while upholding the rights and welfare of individuals and society as a whole. By promoting artistic freedom, African countries can celebrate their cultural heritage and encourage innovation, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive, tolerant, and vibrant society.