Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why copyright in the DSM Directive should be saved

The vote of the European Parliament against the European Commission’s proposed Copyright directive in the Digital-Single Market was received with shock by the European publishing and culture industries.

Although the directive itself is complex to the extent that it may be interpreted in different ways, and some of it is admittedly contentious on practical and technical grounds, the directive’s regulatory framework aimed at harmonising copyright laws with the digital and online world, and at shifting the balance of power from online internet institutional and corporate titans in favour of European cultural stakeholders and publishers.

Internet titans such as Google, Mozilla and Wikipedia railed against the directive while the Pirate Party led a Europe-wide campaign against it, citing ‘freedom of expression’ as one of the main concerns. In this vein, Julia Reda, MEP and Pirate Party member has claimed that the directive “would limit freedom of expression, harm independent creators, small publishers and start-ups, and boost fake news – serving, if at all, the special interests of a few big corporations.”

Apart from being empirically incorrect, Reda’s obfuscated perspective on the directive is driven by abstract ideological motivations, and she is wittingly or unwittingly serving internet titans. In reality, the directive provides various safeguards for authors and publishers, including the right of authors to receive full account of their sales, the right of collective bargaining with internet websites for cultural stakeholders and publishers, and the right of authors and publishers to be properly compensated when their work is used for commercial ends on the internet.

The directive also provides various copyright exceptions for education purposes to libraries and heritage institutions while reiterating the right of publishers to negotiate for licences. The latest version, drafted by EU Parliament committee rapporteur Axel Voss, also included a compromise between authors and publishers on article 12.

Articles 11 and 13 seem to have been the most contested articles of the directive and incidentally they are the articles which very clearly shift the balance of power from internet titans to the culture and publishing industry. Article 11 provides a neighbouring right for press publishers and puts an obligation on information-sharing websites to pay press publishers for their use of content. The aim of the article is clearly intended at news aggregation, and the article puts an emphasis on the aspect of commercial use, but critics say that it would affect hit users with a “link tax”.

In reality article 11 does not regulate the base of internet users, and clearly excludes hyperlinking. Instead it provides press publishers the right to negotiate with information-sharing websites for their use of content. Article 11 wouldn’t have affected the general user, but it would have given greater leeway for European publishers to negotiate contracts and licences with US internet titans such as Google. Admittedly, article 11 is contentious on technical grounds given that, if publishers used article 11 to put an obligation on Google for the listing of searches with the aim of offsetting advertising revenues from the use of mobile devices, Google may as well retaliate by removing the publishers’ search results straight away. So, it is true that on practical and technical grounds, article 11 may be very contentious, but on a point of principle, politicians should always be on the side of European press publishers when economic disagreements arise between US internet titans and European publishing and culture industries.

This is not about free speech, or about restricting some kind of information, but about an economic imbalance of power in the online and digital world dominated by US titans. Let’s not delude ourselves that the online world and its economic structures are democratic – they are not. The economic relationships of the online world, that is relationship between the consumer or user and the online seller or provider, are not based on the collective will of millions of internet users. They are instead conditioned by internet monopolies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, which incidentally today also happen to be some of the biggest companies in the world and as powerful and effective as to provide services and products which have changed our lives and economies.

On the other hand, article 13 does not put an obligation to install upload filters as commonly stated by opponents to the directive, but it does put the burden on internet content-sharing websites to pro-actively prevent protected content from being uploaded and distributed online. Article 13 also gives the right to culture stakeholders to negotiate for licences with internet-content sharing websites and what this means is that internet monopolies may no longer be able to unilaterally set the value of the payments to rights-holders – YouTube is a case in point which forces artists to accept its value of payments unilaterally due to its sheer monopoly power. Such a step would be greatly effective in curbing the tide of power these monopolies are riding and thereby act in favour of our local industries.

Until this vote took place, the EU parliament and the EU Commission had consistently tried to rein in on internet monopolies which are unilaterally setting the market rules. With all its faults and serious economic problems, the EU has proved itself an effective institutional power able to regulate corporate monopolies, and it is in this spirit that the directive should be saved.

Now, European publishers and culture stakeholders should try and take a leading role in pressuring for a reasonable compromise without giving away too much. Certain safeguards could easily be added without compromising the proposed balance of power – there can be safeguards against the link tax that do not jeopardise publisher rights and safeguards against upload filters that would not compromise the liability of content-sharing websites for rights infringement and the illegal sharing of content. It may take some time to conceive of a radical new way the online world would work, but doing nothing is certainly not an option. The massive influx of propaganda against this directive produced by internet titans and delivered by their servants, the Pirate Party, have to be fought back with a strong educational and information campaign.

Statement by the executive chairman of the National Book Council on the EU Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market

The no vote passed by the European Parliament on the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was unexpected. The directive was a rational compromise between European creators and publishers which, basically, would have harmonised European copyright laws with the online world. The vote has inflicted irreparable damage on European culture industries.

The directive was not going to change the fundamental concepts of copyright use in Europe, but the no vote was unexpected mostly due to the fact that the directive would have provided a series of safeguards for European artists, authors, creators and publishers. Some of these safeguards included economic transparency by publishers, the right of collective management organisations and creators to negotiate licenses with internet content-sharing websites, and the right of authors and publishers to demand royalties on the commercial use of their work.

In some way or another most of the European stakeholders were in favour of the directive, and only the internet pirate movement along with corporate internet giants were campaigning against it. Most of us were surprised to learn that politicians would actually fall prey to the same campaign of obfuscation launched by the pirate movement, which claimed many gullible web users, spreading panic among the poorly-informed. The agitators in this movement seem to be unwittingly or wittingly reckless, wrecking havoc for the sake of promoting a ultimately shallow and banal ideology.

Claims that this directive would have brought a ban on memes and enabled Hollywood firms to tail Facebook users for sharing movie stills are but a few examples of this campaign of obfuscation and misinformation.

Better educational campaigns on copyright are needed for sure. If there is one thing stakeholders in the industry have learned today, it is that copyright needs to be explained and promoted so as to prevent the pirate movement from running roughshod, wrecking the culture industries. As for those who think of themselves as liberals, or leftist, they should think well which side they should subscribe to. There are two options – either you are in favour of empowering artists and creators by supporting their right to increase their labour-value, or you will take the side of those who want to undermine the labour-value of the artists and create a world where memes are the only art form we can enjoy.

Proposed amendment to the Media and Defamation Act in relation to defamation lawsuits decided by competent Courts outside Malta (SLAPP)

The Front Against Censorship is proposing an amendment to the the Media and Defamation Act in relation to the threat posed by SLAPP lawsuits to the financial viability of the Maltese press.

The Press Act was recently replaced by the new Media and Defamation Act. The Front Against Censorship had negotiated the inclusion of a large number of amendments to the original Media and Defamation Act, which the Government had accepted. The Front believes that the result was a law which represented a significant step forward in safeguarding press freedom in Malta.

Shortly after the negotiations between the Government and the Front were concluded, a new problem emerged in the form of SLAPP lawsuits against the Maltese press. The amendment to the Media and Defamation Act proposed by the Opposition when the Media and Defamation Bill was being discussed in Parliament was reviewed by the Front. This was found to run counter to the Brussels I Regulation, because it a priori denied the jurisdiction of Courts located in other EU Member States when the defendant of a defamation case was resident or domiciled in Malta. The resulting use of the public policy exception found in the Brussels I Regulation would have risked the law being struck down by the ECJ or in infringement procedures being imposed against Malta.

The Front believes that the present conundrum can only be ultimately resolved through an EU wide directive. In the interim, the Front has sought to a way to provide a buffer for the Maltese press which would still be compliant with the Brussels I Regulation.

Thus whilst not denying Courts found in other EU Member States jurisdiction to hear defamation cases concerning a defendant resident or domiciled in Malta, the Front is proposing that the Maltese Courts give due consideration to a number of aspects prior to deciding whether to enforce a decision given by a foreign Court.

In summary, the amendments guide the Maltese Courts to consider whether the defendant was accorded equal rights in the foreign Court, whether the damages imposed by the foreign Court would result in the financial ruin of the newspaper or compromise its ability to operate, and whether the judgment is likely to impede the newspaper’s journalistic freedoms or freedom of expression. We believe that these protections are compatible with the public policy exception of the Brussels I Regulation as explained in the legal rationale provided with the amendment.

This would mean that the jurisdiction of foreign Courts would not be ruled out a priori, and that the judgments given by foreign Courts could still be applied in Malta, as long as they were not in violation of the rights granted above.

It is worth noting that the maximum amount of damages which may be awarded in a defamation case through the Media and Defamation Act is €11,640. This figure reflects the maximum damages which one may incur for a single story. This maximum amount specified in the law for each story reflects the economic situation of the Maltese press. This means that €11,640 is regarded as a significant deterrent for publishing defamatory material, in excess of which press freedom would be curtailed.

The continued existence of a free press is a public good which needs to be protected. These amendments will provide a buffer against financially ruinous judgments given by foreign Courts which do not respect the economic realities of the local press, whilst simultaneously complying with EU regulations. It is our expectation that this will allow the local press to continue to fulfill its essential function until an EU Directive hindering SLAPP lawsuits has been introduced.

Draft Amendment to Counter SLAPP Lawsuits against the Media

FKC Legal Rationale Anti-SLAPP Amendment

PR FKC Anti-SLAPP Amendment

Stqarrija – Front kontra ċ-Ċensura – 1 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Proposta għal emenda fil-Liġi dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama b’rabta ma’ kawżi ta’ malafama deċiżi minn Qrati kompetenti barra minn Malta

Il-Front kontra ċ-Ċensura qed jipproponi emenda fil-Liġi dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama, b’rabta mat-theddida li jġibu magħhom kawżi SLAPP għall-vijabilità finanzjarja tal-midja Maltija.

Il-Liġi tal-Istampa dan l-aħħar kienet sostitwita mil-liġi l-ġdida dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama. Il-Front kontra ċ-Ċensura kien innegozja l-inklużjoni ta’ għadd kbir ta’ emendi fil-liġi oriġinali dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama, liema emendi l-Gvern kien aċċetta. Il-Front jemmen li r-riżultat ta’ dan kien liġi li kienet tixhed pass kbir ’il quddiem biex tkun salvagwardjata l-libertà tal-istampa f’Malta.

Ftit wara li ġew konklużi n-negozjati bejn il-Gvern u l-Front, inħolqot problema ġdida minħabba l-prospett ta’ kawżi SLAPP kontra ġurnalisti Maltin. Il-Front xtarr sewwa l-emenda għal-Liġi dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama proposta mill-Oppożizzjoni meta l-Abbozz ta’ Liġi dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama kien qed jiġi diskuss fil-Parlament. Din l-emenda kienet tmur kontra l-Brussels I Regulation, għaliex kienet tiċħad a priori l-ġuriżdizzjoni ta’ Qrati fi stati membri oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropea meta l-konvenut f’kawża ta’ malafama jkun jgħix f’Malta. L-użu tal-eċċezzjoni tal-policy pubblika li tinsab fil-Brussels I Regulation kien joħloq is-sogru li l-liġi tkun annullata mill-ECJ jew fi proċeduri oħra imposti kontra Malta.

Il-Front jemmen li l-problema li nħolqot tista’ tkun solvuta permezz ta’ direttiva mifruxa fl-Unjoni Ewropea kollha. Sadanittant, il-Front qed jipproponi forma ta’ protezzjoni għall-midja Maltija li xorta waħda hija konformi mal-Brussels I Regulation.

Filwaqt li ma jiċħadx il-ġuriżdizzjoni ta’ Qrati fi stati membri oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropea biex jisimgħu kawżi ta’ defamazzjoni fejn il-konvenut ikun jgħix f’Malta, il-Front qed jipproponi li l-Qrati Maltin jikkunsidraw numru ta’ aspetti qabel ma jiddeċiedu jekk deċiżjoni minn Qorti barranija għandhiex tiġi infurzata jew le.

Fil-qosor, l-emendi jiggwidaw lill-Qrati Maltin biex jikkunsidraw jekk il-konvenut ingħatax drittijiet indaqs fil-Qorti barranija, jekk il-ħlas ta’ danni impost mill-Qorti barranija jwassalx għall-falliment finanzjarju tal-ġurnal inkwistjoni jew jikkompromettix l-operat tiegħu, u jekk id-deċiżjoni hix se xxekkel il-libertà ġurnalistika jew il-libertà tal-espressjoni ta’ dak il-ġurnal. Aħna nemmnu li din il-protezzjoni hija kompatibbli mal-eċċezzjoni tal-policy pubblika tal-Brussels I Regulation, kif spjegat fin-noti legali provduti mal-emenda.

Dan ikun ifisser li l-ġuriżdizzjoni ta’ Qrati barranin ma tkunx eskluża a priori, u li s-sentenzi mogħtija minn Qrati barranin ikunu jistgħu jiġu infurzati f’Malta sakemm ma jiksrux id-drittijiet imsemmijin hawn fuq.

Ta’ min jinnota li l-ammont massimu ta’ danni li jista’ jintrebaħ f’kawża ta’ malafama taħt il-Liġi dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama huwa ta’ €11,640. Din iċ-ċifra tirrifletti d-danni massimu għal artiklu wieħed biss. Dan l-ammont massimu speċifikat fil-liġi għal kull storja jirrifletti l-qagħda ekonomika tal-midja Maltija. Dan ifisser li l-ammont ta’ €11,640 hu meqjus bħala deterrent sinifikanti għall-pubblikazzjoni ta’ materjal defamatorju, u jekk jinqabeż, il-libertà tal-istampa tkun imrażżna.

L-eżistenza ta’ midja ħielsa hija benefiċċju pubbliku li għandu jiġi mħares. Dawn l-emendi jipprovdu protezzjoni kontra sentenzi minn Qrati barranin li jistgħu jikkawżaw falliment finanzjarju u li ma jirrispettawx ir-realtajiet ekonomiċi tal-midja lokali. Fl-istess waqt l-emendi huma konformi mar-regolamenti tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Permezz ta’ dawn l-emendi, il-midja lokali tkun tista’ tkompli taqdi l-funzjoni essenzjali tagħha sakemm tiġi introdotta direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea kontra l-kawżi SLAPP.

Safeguarding authors’ rights

Since entering office in the National Book Council, I have ensured that the Council serves as a bastion for the defence of authors’ rights.

The recently approved legal notice of the National Book Council obliges it to safeguard the rights of both authors and publishers at a state-policy level, meaning that whenever laws or policies are being drawn by the government or by parliament, the Council, by default, has to take the sides of authors and publishers. The Council is also obliged by law to defend the rights of authors and publishers abroad in international institutions and fora.

Whenever the rights of authors and publishers conflict, the Council is required to find a compromise between both.

One of our most recent campaigns to safeguard the rights of authors was our work done in the European-wide campaign of authors against article 12 of the currently proposed EU Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. We have opposed this article for various reasons. This article was introduced by the Commission to solve Germany’s internal rights problems after the infamous decision of the Reprobel vs HP case at the EU Court of Justice.

Unfortunately, even if article 12 is a ‘may’ provision, which means that it ‘may’ be introduced at the discretion of member states, we share the view of thousands of authors in Europe who believe that the way article 12 is written may set a precedent which will give publishers even more legal power over authors than the arguably excessive power they already wield. In literary circles this situation is known as the arena of the lion and the mouse.

One such precedent, a direct consequence of article 12 which we oppose actively, is the distribution of public lending rights to publishers when existing EU legislation clearly states that PLR is the exclusive right of the author.

Malta has been on the forefront in the struggle among member states to get a better deal for authors on article 12, and in fact, Malta has managed to convince the Bulgarian Presidency to reword the recital to the article to prevent any form of new legal precedents. We are still unhappy with the overall article, but Bulgaria’s rewording has brought a much needed and improved change.

Only Italy and Slovenia supported Malta during the member-state negotiations while Germany was adamantly for article 12. Having worked against such odds, it is only appropriate that I thank the sterling work of Malta’s diplomat in Brussels, Lorenzo Vella, who ensured that our concerns are carried forward. I’m sure that we will forever be grateful to Lorenzo and the diplomatic team in Brussels who have proudly defended the rights of authors in the negotiations to this EU directive.

This doesn’t mean that we wish to pit authors against publishers – of course not. We would like to see a harmonious balance between the two parties. Indeed, during the negotiations for the DSM directive, we have also fought tooth and nail to protect the rights of publishers when it comes to other articles. For example, we are against the introduction of a law which would allow websites to upload content without prior permission from their rights-holders, and we are also against introducing a law which gives an exception to websites to reproduce long excerpts of published content without prior permission from the rights-holder.

We believe that such laws will not serve the educational and intellectual development of our countries, but will only serve to help big internet giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and others to make even greater profits at the expense of small publishers who are being squeezed from every direction by these monopolies. We will always strive to see that publishers work in a safe environment.

Of course, it is always a great advantage to have government’s support and the Labour government has been greatly receptive and supportive of our bid to defend authors’ rights. The media bill recently approved by parliament is a sterling example of government’s drive to strengthen and improve laws relating to freedom of speech. This media bill is undoubtedly one of the most liberal media bills in Europe as it has abolished criminal libel and introduced the one libel-one story rule which effectively caps any libel suit to not more than €12,000 in damages – one of the lowest limits in Europe.

Government should now consolidate its stance as a leading European pioneer in free speech legislation by working with the EU Commission to introduce a new EU-wide directive which would prohibit libel tourism and SLAPP. The Labour government has also abolished censorship laws which have been used by previous right-wing governments to systematically persecute and prosecute artists and writers.

The brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has surely not helped all the legislative progress that has been made under the Labour government. Daphne’s murder has brought increased political tensions in the country. The new Daphne Project is ensuring that her death does not compromise our freedom of speech as it helps break down any possible fears journalists may have.

More robust protection measures should be provided for journalists and media houses especially when they investigate criminal organisations as Daphne was doing prior to her death. Already, three men have been charged in court with Daphne’s murder, and this has been a significant step forward, but this is not enough.

Now we need to know who ordered Daphne’s murder and for what reason. I am confident that with all the pressure being faced by our institutions, both inquiring magistrates and leading police investigators intend to get to the bottom of this case. Such a success will mark government’s consistent legacy in defending free speech and protecting authors’ rights.

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.

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