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Introduction to the 2017 Annual Report of the National Book Council.

KunsillNazzjonaliKtieb_logo2017-49-150It is with great pride that I write about the work that was carried out in 2017, a most significant year for the National Book Council. After years of work, lobbying and development, the Council has finally been legally recognised by a legal notice for the very first time. 2017 also saw the creation of a Council registry and an archive in line with public service standards. Three employees of the Council attended a course run by the civil service so as to acquaint themselves with the handling and use of official documents and public registries. In line with this administrative and legal build-up, at the end of the year, the Council also released the first ever Author’s Manual in order to help authors acquaint themselves with the complex legal and financial aspects of copyright law and the book market.

Lobbying efforts also continued on the financial front. Complementing Government’s investment for next year’s celebration of Valletta as European City of Culture, the Council was prescribed a total budget of €490,000 for 2018. This is a 69% increase on the 2017 Government allocation of €290,000. This is a far cry from the annual budget of €40,000 we had inherited from the previous Council in 2013. Also, in 2017 the Lands Department confirmed the decision to grant an unused public building in Old Mint Street, Valletta, to the Council following our lengthy lobbying efforts to acquire a historic building in Valletta in order to create a book centre which would host a book and literature museum and a private bookshop. Funds are needed to restore the property and make it usable.

In 2017 we have continued increasing our investment in our initiatives mostly in the Malta Book Festival and in our promotional and marketing work. We have ended our weekly TV programme “Xi Qrajt Dan l-Aħħar?” in its second season and started a new TV programme called “Paġna minn Ktieb”, in which Antonella Axisa reads excerpts from contemporary Maltese literature. A longer version of the programme, “Wiċċ imb Wiċċ”, features a 20 to 30-minute interview with the author and is directly uploaded on our Facebook and Youtube pages. In the production of these programmes, we are now saving lots of money by producing the programmes in-house, using the filming facilities of Ministry of Education rather than sub-contracting audiovisual companies. This has helped us re-arrange our financial projections for 2018 to invest more funds in the Malta Book Festival instead. We have also started a new radio programme on PBS’s main radio channel “Radju Malta 1”. After CEO John Bundy rescinded PBS’s commitment to supply equipment and resources for the NBC-PBS Literary Short-Film Contest, the difference had to be offset with increased investment by the Council. Renewed discussions with PBS are set to continue once it appoints its new CEO.

The Malta Book Festival remains our biggest investment since it is the most important commercial, cultural and educational event of the Maltese book industry. From our financial projections and data gathered from Festival exhibitors, book sales at the 2017 Festival kept the record high of the previous year, but did not increase. Sales at the Book Festival are an important source of revenue for local publishers and given the decrease in revenue from book shop sales, more effort is being made by the Council to help publishers increase their revenue through our festivals. This was also why in 2017 we initiated a new book festival in Gozo. This increased investment is set to continue to grow in 2018 both for the Malta Book Festival as well as for other ancillary festivals.

Lobbying on an institutional level to guarantee the rights of both publishers and authors continued. In lobbying to introduce official representatives of authors and publishers in the Language Council, the government has granted the Council representation for the publishers in the Language Council by law. The Council also brokered an agreement between publishers and the Ministry of Education for the introduction of copyright licenses. Now, we are at the stage in which publishers are writing the required agreements so as to have them signed. The signing of these licenses is important to make the government compliant to current copyright regulations, and also with the upcoming education exception as proposed in the European Commission’s proposed copyright directive. On the proposed copyright directive, which is still being discussed on a European Union institutional level, we are also undergoing lobbying efforts to ensure that the directive does not hurt local authors and publishers. In this regard we would like to see various changes made to the directive, including changes to articles 11,12 and 13.

Our work to promote Maltese literature abroad kept going at a strong pace. Our participation at the London Book Fair is becoming ever more successful and we hope to keep building on this success so as to see more Maltese authors published abroad. Arts Council’s grant is useful to get Maltese authors translated and thankfully, Arts Council increased its translation grant yet again in 2017 to a total of €40,000. We hope that Arts Council will keep its commitment in the coming years. Our work abroad is not only limited to Europe, but now extends to the Arab region and to Latin America, yet our funds in this sector are still very limited.

In an increasingly challenging market environment, the Council aims to continue increasing its efforts to help publishers and authors increase their sources of revenue – this aim is not intended purely for commercial ends. A strong and thriving book industry is essential for the cultural, educational and intellectual development of our country and this is why we take our aim and work very seriously hoping that it will eventually contribute to a better society.

http://ktieb.org.mt/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NBC-Report-EN-final-ebook.pdf

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A political manifesto on the liberation of women

Lou Drofenik is not a new name in the Maltese literary scene. A Maltese-Australian author based in Melbourne, Drofenik, who writes in English, started by self-publishing her first novel Birds of Passage in 2005 and so far has written eight novels.

The Confectioner’s Daughter is Drofenik’s first novel to be published by Horizons, a relatively new and upcoming Maltese publisher. Horizons’ foresight served it well. The Confectioner’s Daughter won the National Book Prize for novels published in 2016. This is the first time a novel written in English has won the Prize since the National Book Council introduced the bilingual rule putting both English and Maltese, as State official languages, on an equivalent platform.

Winning a prize in the novels category against competition by renowned authors such as Immanuel Mifsud makes the recognition to Drofenik even more prestigious and rightly so. Lou Drofenik had already received two National Book Prizes for her novels, one in 2008 with In Search of Carmen Caruana and another one in 2011 with Cast The Long Shadow. She was twice awarded the Australian North Central Literary Award for Cloves and Bitter Almonds and Beloved Convict.

Although Drofenik’s position as the best English-writing Maltese novelist was practically undisputed given the lack of Maltese literature in English, the fact that she has proved her mastery alongside other renowned Maltese authors, irrespective of the language used, means that her place in the Maltese literary canon is assured. Here we are speaking of undoubtedly one of the most significant contemporary Maltese writers.

The novel is lucid, gripping, dynamic and reads like a film by Giuseppe Tornatore. It is set in early 20th century Malta, where the patriarchal establishment rules over women with overwhelming force, the voice of women is often muffled and women tend to keep to themselves.

In a small village environment which can easily turn hostile and violent towards independent women who make choices outside of the norm, the rags-to-riches success of a poor baker turned confectioner who inherits a small bakery from her deceased father is welcomed by her fellow villagers with both envy and respect. Her younger Sicilian husband, whom she married after bribing a priest to marry them off quickly after having conceived his child, is murdered leaving Ġuditta, the confectioner, alone to run her business and bring up her child.

The good side of Malta comes to light when friends and even unknown strangers empathise with her and come forward to help her. As the daughter of the strong-willed Ġuditta grows in the stifling patriarchal environment of the village, a sense of freedom and independence grows with her. Licia, the confectioner’s daughter, leaves the island for greener pastures only to find new challenges of a different kind, yet of a similar nature.

The story shows Malta in its many different aspects. The ugly, superstitious, overtly zealous and religious, male-centred society, while on the other hand there is also love, independence, solidarity and social justice. Women are at the centre of the story and throughout the novel face great challenges, making the theme of women’s emancipation strongly present in both the background and foreground of the story.

As the story spans through generations we see the characters evolve and grow along with their changing historical environment providing a socio-historical background to Maltese society from the eyes of female characters. Drofenik, a Maltese emigrant who went to Australia in the 1960s, during the decade in which tens of thousands of Maltese left the islands in search for a better life, knows very well the great challenges faced by Maltese women back then.

In her unpublished paper A Moment of Rebellion, Drofenik writes that her decision to immigrate to Australia was driven by her desire to own her life; to recreate herself while seeking liberation from the clutches of old prescribed customs which her home society had long imposed on her. Similarly, Licia, who leaves Malta for good, recreates her life from scratch – a daunting and challenging task in comparison to staying in Malta in the comfort and security of her mother’s home.

The characters of Licia and Ġuditta are a rare class of female characters in Maltese literature: strong-willed, independent and defiant. To many young women today who may still experience the stifling patriarchal nature of Maltese society, Licia and Ġuditta may be inspirational characters. Female heroes are rare in the Maltese literary scene, but they are also so in literature all over the world.

Lou Drofenik’s National Book Prize for The Confectioner’s Daughter as the best Maltese novel in 2016 has coincided with the global debate on women’s rights, sparked by the outcry over sexual abuse and misconduct on actresses in Hollywood by powerful men in the film industry. Drofenik may be writing about stories which are set in the past, but she may also be writing about many traits which are still with us to their very day. With The Confectioner’s Daughter, Drofenik may have written not only a historical novel, but a political manifesto for the liberation of women.

 

Press law reform is here: let’s strengthen this Bill

When the government released its sloppy and badly-drafted Media and Defamation Bill back in February the lobby for freedom of speech and expression felt betrayed. The media bill proposed to double civil libel fines and failed to remove criminal libel from the list of indictable offences.

The publication of stories based on unsubstantiated claims, appearing both online and in the press at around the same time, was deemed as grounds enough by a faction of government supporters to endorse a bill which aimed to stifle free speech even further than before.

We were worried and rightly so.

The Front against Censorship was quick to react. We launched a campaign of strong opposition to the bill. We analysed the bill thoroughly and presented clear-cut counter-proposals. The government responded by inviting us for talks. The talks were very intensive and it took some time until the government consented to our proposed changes to the bill, a demanding exercise in which I was helped by my colleagues Ingram Bondin and Andrew Sciberras.

It is only right that the government should be praised for accepting most of our proposals, which included the universalisation of the right of protection of sources (instead of having it restricted solely to those in the media register), the complete abolition of criminal libel, the removal of colonial vilification laws related to the President and the Flag of the Republic, the consolidation of a single-publication rule, the removal of the obligation for members of the media to register with the proposed media register and the capping of civil libel damages to their current level. It is worth mentioning that the government was initially adamant that it would double civil libel damages, but now these will not be increased and they will remain at the current level.

This bill is partly a copy from the UK defamation Act which is a good model to follow as long as you cap the damages, and tweak and modify several other points. Admittedly, the government didn’t accept all our proposals, some of which were very technical, but we can safely say that this bill is an important progressive step forward for the consolidation of the right of freedom of speech in our country.

This bill will also help induce a safer environment for journalists since it gives the explicit message that journalists and writers have the right to criticise and investigate incisively with greater freedom than before. Thanks to the single-publication rule, one can’t open a libel case on each and every re-publication of a story – there can only be one case for every story, irrespective how many times this story has been published.

Libel laws have always been used by the strong and powerful to clamp down on criticism.

Big companies and politicians have repeatedly used libel laws in order to stop journalists trying to investigate cases of corporate misconduct.

This new legislation will make it even more difficult for the strong and powerful to silence criticism or journalistic investigation.

Now it is up to the media editors to step in and put forward their position and proposals when the bill goes to the second reading and more amendments may be made.

The Labour government has as of now been consistent in dismantling our censorship laws and it is continuing to do so with the help of stakeholders. We should insist that it does not lose track of this consistent progress.

19 November 2017, 9:16am

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/82306/press_law_reform_is_here_lets_strengthen_this_bill#.Whp7k981snQ

Front’s Media Bill Amendments Accepted by Government

Press Release – Front Against Censorship – 15/11/2017

Front’s Media Bill Amendments Accepted by Government

The Front Against Censorship wishes to express its satisfaction at the fact that the Government has accepted the majority of its amendments to the Media and Defamation Bill.

When the Government had proposed the Bill last February, the Front had opposed it on a number of grounds. From March onwards the Front has been engaged in intensive discussion with the Government with the aim of reaching an agreement over the contents of the Bill. These extensive efforts have now borne fruit and the Government has now accepted the Front’s proposals.

The measures which had been proposed by the Front and which have been accepted by the Government are the following.

  1. Repeal of Criminal Libel and Criminal Defamation. Libel and Slander will now be tried exclusively in a Civil Court.

  2. Damages awarded for Libel to remain at 11,646.87 instead of being doubled to €20,000.

  3. Repeal of Obscene Libel – thus completing reform of artistic censorship laws.

  4. Single Publication Rule – only one libel suit can be filed per story.

  5. Universal Protection of Sources – to be extended to all authors.

  6. Garnishees not to be granted in cases of Libel and Slander.

  7. Law on Improper Use of Electronic Communications Networks not to apply to Libel and Slander.

  8. Registration of websites will not be obligatory.

  9. Criticism of the President no longer a criminal offence.

  10. Reform of draconian colonial era Sedition laws.

The Front believes that these reforms represent a huge step forward in the dismantling of Malta’s censorship laws. The Front agrees wholeheartedly with more lenient libel laws since it believes that libel is too often a weapon used by powerful political and business interests to intimidate journalists exposing their wrongdoing. Despite this important reform of repressive laws the Front promises to keep vigilant against future threats to freedom of expression.

Stqarrija Stampa – Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura – 15/11/2017

Il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura jilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon il-fatt li l-Gvern aċċetta l-maġġoranza tal-proposti tiegħu dwar l-Abbozz ta’ Ligi dwar il-Midja u l-Malfama.

Meta fi Frar li għadda l-Gvern ħareġ Abbozz ta’ Liġi sabiex jemenda il-Liġi tal-Istampa, il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura kien irreaġixxa billi oppona dan l-abbozz fuq diversi punti. Minn Marzu li għadda l-Gvern beda diskussjonijiet intensivi mal-Front Kotnra ċ-Ċensura bil-għan li jinltaħaq ftehim fuq l-abbozz. Illum nistgħu ngħidu b’sodisfazzjon li dawn id-diskussjonijiet u x-xogħol estensiv li għamel il-Front f’dan ir-rigward sarraf fil-qbil tal-Gvern mal-maġġoranza tal-proposti tal-Front.

Il-proposti tal-Front li ġew aċċettati u li sejrin jidhru fl-abbozz il-ġdid huma dawn li ġejjin:

  1. It-tneħħija tal-Libell Kriminali u l-Inġurja Kriminali. Każijiet ta’ Libell u Inġurja sejrin jibdew jinstemgħu biss f’Qorti Ċivili.

  2. Id-danni li jistgħu jintrebħu waqt Libell Ċivili sejrin jibqgħu €11,646.87 minflok jirduppjaw għal €20,000.

  3. It-tneħħija tal-Libell Oxxen, li sejjer iġib fi tmiemu ir-reġim ta’ ċensura artistika.

  4. Regola ta’ Pubblikazzjoni Waħdanija – storja waħda issa sejra toħloq kawża ta’ libell waħda biss.

  5. Protezzjoni tas-Sors Universali – l-awturi kollha issa sejrin igawdu mill-protezzjoni tas-sorsi.

  6. Mhux sejrin jingħataw mandati ta’ sekwestru fejn jidħlu kawżi ta’ Libell u Inġurja.

  7. Il-Liġi dwar l-Użu Mhux Xieraq ta’ Apparat Elettroniku mhux sejra tapplika aktar fejn jidħlu l-kawżi ta’ Libell u Inġurja.

  8. Ir-Reġistrazzjoni tas-siti mhux sejra tkun obbligatorja.

  9. Il-kritika lejn il-President mhux sejra tibqa’ offiża kriminali.

  10. Aġġornament tal-Liġijiet Kolonjali tas-Sedizzjoni.

Dawn ir-riformi huma pass kbir ‘il quddiem, għaliex ikomplu jżarmaw u jtaffu l-liġijiet ta’ ċensura f’pajjiżna, b’mod speċjali fejn jidħlu il-liġijiet tal-libell. Il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura jaqbel li l-liġijiet tal-libell għandhom ikunu anqas ħorox għaliex ħafna drabi dawn huma arma b’saħħitha li tintuża minn politiċi u negozjanti kbar kontra dawk il-ġurnalisti li jikxfu l-imġieba ħażina tagħhom. Minkejja din ir-riforma importanti fejn jidħlu dawn il-liġijiet ripressivi, il-Front iwiegħed li sejjer jibqa’ attent għal kull theddid ieħor lejn il-liberta’ tal-espressjoni li tista’ titfaċċa fil-ġejjieni.

No bombs can condition democracy

This article appeared last Sunday in MaltaToday. 

I am as shocked and angry as many others on the execution of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Most of us never imagined that Caruana Galizia, or any other journalist or writer, would ever have been executed. It is only in the late 1970s and 1980s that Malta began experiencing some form of deadly political and civil violence after Independence, and yet this was nothing comparable to the scale and troubles of other independent and post-colonial countries.

Since the tense period of the 1980s, it never passed anyone’s mind that someone would execute a murder for political reasons, let alone imagine a journalist or a writer being executed in such a brutal manner. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is abominable and treacherous, cowardly in nature yet so rotten that it has scarred our peaceful way of life. The peaceful calm in this country has been broken as someone, somewhere has crossed a line that should not have been crossed.

No one actually showed any outrage at the car bombings which took place during the recent years. It’s ok, we thought, as we assumed that as long as the criminal gangs blow up each other, we, as law-abiding civilians, have nothing to fear. Now, this has changed. The fact that this line has been crossed by the assassination of a journalist and writer makes it even more outrageous and terrifying. Criminal groups are directly threatening not only our peace, but even our democracy and way of life.

In this moment of outrage and mourning to a slain journalist and writer, our society needs a lot of reflection as well especially since we never expected such an outcome in the first place.

The State should be able to create a safe environment for journalists and writers free from any harassment and intimidation, so it should go without saying that the government should quickly send the right response by re-drafting its proposed and sloppy press reform and abolish criminal libel, lower civil libel damages, and increase fines for vexatious libel.

Undoubtedly there is a large and overwhelming feeling in society that the police commissioner is not doing his job, especially since there were no police investigations in the Panama papers matter.

Police commissioners in Malta have since colonial times always protected the strong and powerful, and this is why in our recent history, no politician from either side of the political spectrum has ever gone to prison over corruption, despite the fact that cases of corruption by governments from both sides of the spectrum are numerous and well-known. It is about time that politicians are held accountable by the law. A new police commissioner chosen by a commission of judges could increase trust in our institutions.

If there are reasons for the Prime Minister and the Labour government to resign, this is not one of them. If Labour were to resign from government right now after having won the elections with a clear mandate, it would be sending the message that violence can actually dictate our democratic process.

Clearly we have to stick together as a country in this moment of crisis as we cannot allow bombs and violence to affect our way of life, to divide us and cripple our democracy.

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/81537/no_bombs_can_condition_democracy_#.We7h9d8xInR

Statement on the Murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

It is with deep sorrow that we mourn the loss of Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in a planned attack with a car-bomb in her hometown earlier today. No journalist and writer should suffer this fate and the state should ensure that all writers and journalists are able to work in a safe environment, free from harassment and intimidation. It is of the utmost importance, for the sake of our democracy and our way of life, that the perpetrators of this horrible killing be brought to justice, not only to serve the required punishment, but also to bring to light the real motivation of this horrible attack. Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult day for the relatives and family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but it is also a difficult day for our democracy. In such difficult moments, it is with adamant resolution that one may face the forces of terror so as not to allow these forces to instill fear amongst our community of writers and journalists

Worst of times for public broadcasting

Recently, a film producer who was awarded a PBS and Arts Council grant of €100,000 to produce a dramatic film about Carmelo Borg Pisani, went on record saying that we need to tell the story of Carmelo Borg Pisani with an “open mind”. The film producer will be using public funds to create a dramatic film on Borg Pisani based on a poorly-researched book by Laurence Mizzi, which portrays Borg Pisani as an admirable person with views too romantic to be dangerous.

In the 1940s, as Jews, Russians and Europeans alike were forced into a war not of their own making by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the victims of war did not have the privilege to think about Nazis and Fascists with an open mind. With Europe under the yoke of Nazi Germany and its fascist allies, Jews were faced with genocide on an industrial scale and Western Russians had to fight against the threat of military annihilation. Historical revisionism cannot be more grating and objectionable as when it attempts to relieve the guilt from perpetrators of some of the most horrible crimes in history.

It is beyond shameful and outrageous that the Arts Council and PBS should award such a coveted grant to a project of historical revisionism. Borg Pisani was a fascist and a traitor whose decision to spy on Malta for the Italians during the height of the Second World War was taken on by him in full conviction of his perverse and fascist beliefs. The facts are well known and presenting them otherwise for the sake of being “open minded” is outright dishonesty. In PBS’s statement, made by the chairman of the adjudication board which awarded the grant, Tony Cassar Darien, not even once was it mentioned that Borg Pisani was a fascist.

These are indeed the worst of times for public broadcasting in Malta. From the Kim Kardashian Reality-TV clone show of Benjamin Camilleri (apparently, Ben Camille as he describes himself), to prime time Xarabank waging outright war on the education system, and publicly-funded films revising the history of noted fascists and convicted traitors, PBS has reached a level of decadence unprecedented even by our abysmal standards. Yet, the Minister of Culture, Owen Bonnici, seems unperturbed by all this. He seems to share those same populist views that Peppi Azzopardi of Xarabank fame publicly espouses: since we have freedom of speech anything may go on the public broadcaster.

The point of having a public broadcaster is to provide citizens with a service of news, information, education and culture. A public broadcaster should not be used with the sole aim of entertaining the masses, and such kind of thinking is so perverse that it may theoretically justify the broadcasting of hardcore pornography. The populist views upheld by Peppi Azzopardi and his likes are actually in tune with the idea of public broadcasting under dictatorships. It is under dictatorships that public broadcasting is used to broadcast safe and brainless entertainment, shallow programming with little or no relevant information at all, puerile and insular political debates, and dramatic art with a revisionist agenda. Here in Malta we have a public broadcaster which would make a tin-pot South East Asian dictator proud.

The malaise afflicting the public broadcaster is no different from the blight that has befallen the Arts Council and the Valletta 18 Foundation. The motivation underpinning their allocation of funds does not seem to emerge from an informed vision. Decisions are not being made on the basis of sound educational and cultural principles, but simply on the need to support the vanity projects of friends and allies of politicians and officials in power. And this is why incompetent people are being appointed to high positions within important State institutions by the Ministry of Culture or by the appointees of the minister.

Take for example the adjudication board which granted the money to produce the Carmelo Borg Pisani film. It was composed of Audrey Harrison, an ex-MEPA employee who was then employed at the Film Commission by the Labour government and who appears on IMDB as an actress in one feature film; Anthony Attard, who is the executive director of the Arts Council and has background in theatre; and a priest called Joseph Henry Abela, who apparently has published a book on how people should live their lives. The chairman of the adjudication board, Tony Cassar Darien, is a playwright who writes slapstick drama, the kind you would see and read without needing the help of any grey matter to digest it. Basically, no one on the adjudication board knows jack about cinema and history and yet these people had the authority to grant the €100,000 fund. Insane.

All this is happening as we are heading toward the year when Valletta will be honoured with the title of Capital City of Culture. With a public broadcaster in shambles and cultural institutions under the management of incompetent people, V18 will come and go and will leave no tangible heritage.

The government should realise that nobody cares about the vanity projects of a couple of airheads. Culture can only be strengthened in the long term if we provide capital expenditure to invest in the cultural infrastructure, including the public broadcaster. Recurrent expenditure will come and go, but speaking about these concepts to many officials in PBS and other cultural entities is like speaking Cantonese to a Maltese who can hardly speak and write in Maltese, let alone Cantonese.

The Minister of Culture should sit back, take a deep breath and begin his reality check. This state of shambles cannot go on forever and if everybody in the culture industry, except for the minister’s cronies, are saying the same thing, then something is surely amiss. After all, the Labour Party has been elected into office to do better than this.

http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/79523/worst_of_times_for_public_broadcasting#.WYlVV59NwnR