The readership rate conundrum

The recently released Arts Council and the National Statistics Office Cultural Participation Survey shows a 44% figure for persons who have read at least one whole book during the last 12 months. The survey on cultural participation is based on a sample of around 1,000 positive replies approximately divided per capita, according to Malta’s regions. The survey is on whether people have read a book, went to the cinema or a film-screening, listen to the radio, visited an art gallery, watched a play or engaged in these same cultural activities and others, including parish feasts.

This survey is a commendable yet rare exercise. Scientific surveys on culture are always welcome and Etienne Caruana at NSO, who for years has coordinated cultural statistics, should be commended for his work. Admittedly, public functionaries in education and culture have to work with a dearth of statistical data and scientific studies and the work of professionals like Caruana should be intensified and extended both at a central level, meaning at NSO, and in ministries and public entities. Since the Cultural Participation Survey is a rare exercise, it is even more important to commission other surveys on culture to obtain the best scientific result possible. One can easily cast doubts on aspects of the results of a survey if it stands alone, without being corroborated with other surveys on the same subject.

I would not be so fast as to jump to pessimistic conclusions on the basis of the 44% figure. As a matter of fact, I have some doubts about its accuracy, although I might be proved wrong if more surveys are commissioned and they all corroborate the same figure. Still, the Eurobarometer survey of 2013 had marked a 55% readership rate of books, recording an increase of 10% from the 2007 figure. The increasing readership rate was then corroborated with an increasing trend in book consumption and imports. Thus, overall we had very good reasons why to be optimistic of readership rates and book consumption.

The new 44% figure does not decrease my optimism. One has to admit that the same Cultural Participation Survey gives reasons to be optimistic. The survey indicates that it is the young who form the greatest chunk of the reading population. If the young generation is more likely to read books than their progenitors, then an upward trend in readership rates could be in the offing. This argument can be challenged by the fact that once young people have children, they might abandon many of their activities.

We also still have to wait to see the full benefits of the massive literacy and reading campaigns which have been initiated at a primary school level by the previous Labour administration. The National Book Council has played a small and yet crucial role in this strategy by giving out free book tokens to school children who attend the Book Festival in November and ensuring that the Festival inspires a positive outlook to reading and books in children and young teenagers.

School and class libraries are also being filled to the brim with books. The raison d’etre behind this drive is simple: catch them when they are young. Promoting the importance of reading and books to the general public is still a government priority and this is how the National Book Council comes into the formula. This is why under my chairmanship, the Book Council has spent considerable sums of its budgets in both print and online media, TV programmes, and even adverts and marketing drives on social media.

The survey also gives us the possibility to ask more questions and this is another reason why more detailed surveys are needed. Assuming both the Eurobarometer and the Cultural Participation are accurate, is there a chunk of readers who may read books intermittently according to what books are published? Fifty Shades of Grey might be a case a point.

If one were to assume this survey is accurate, then surely this should serve as a wake-up call for the government to increase exponentially the budget for the National Book Council. Under the previous Nationalist administrations, the book industry was all but ignored on a policy level, with the result that most of the cultural funding went to theatre, music and other cultural sectors, leaving the book sector completely out. Catching up with lost time and opportunity is difficult when the priorities had been set before one comes to office. Moving funds from one sector to another is also a bone of contention and a political issue, so any funding we receive is over and above the funding which has already been previously prioritised by government policy.

Books are not just a cultural segment offering enjoyment and an experience. Books are a pre-requisite for the educational and intellectual development of a society. A low readership rate should be a wake-up call for a government to pool its resources and step up its efforts in education, literacy and book promotion.


National Book Council’s Summer Book Festival

The National Book Council announces it has prepared a treat for all book lovers this Summer: the Summer Book Festival – Gozo, a two-day event packed with cultural activities as well as a book fair. It will take place in Gozo on 14 and 15 July at Sir M. A. Refalo Sixth Form in Victoria. The activities in the cultural programme of the festival will be based on the themes of youth literature and poetry.

Friday 14 July is dedicated to literature for youth. Activities for this day include a panel discussion on the topic of Youth and Literature, which will touch upon various themes, among which youth literacy, and the problems of addressing youth issues without being patronising. There will also be events that focus on particular authors who have distinguished themselves in literature aimed at or concerned with youth and youth issues. Among the guests, both for the panel discussion and the author events, there will be Leanne Ellul, Antoinette Borg, Matthew Schembri, Roberta Bajada and other winners of the Literary Contest – Novels for Youth, which is co-organized by the National Book Council and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ. Summer school students from Malta and Gozo will be invited to attend the Festival with their teachers and parents, as part of their summer school programme.

Poetry will be the focus of the activities on Saturday 15 July. The main event, in honour of the late Gozitan poet Gorg Pisani, will be set up by the National Book Council and will feature readings of excerpts of the poet’s work. A number of well-known local poets will also make an appearance during the various activities in the cultural programme for Saturday. Among these Prof. Michael Zammit and Maria Grech Ganado.

The publishers/associations participating for the event are: Merlin, Glen Calleja and EDE books, Faraxa, MCA (Malta Classics Association), Horizons, SKS, Midsea.

The National Book Council invites all members of the public to remember the dates and find the time to visit the festival during the day or later in the evening. Do not miss out on this opportunity to browse through great literature while getting to meet some of the most exciting authors and poets active today on our islands.

Walid Nabhan, the immigrant song

In this year’s round of the European Union Prize for Literature, the Maltese recipient was Walid Nabhan with his novel L-Eżodu taċ-Ċikonji, published by Klabb Kotba Maltin, which had won the National Book Prize in 2014. The awarding of the prize to Nabhan is of great significance, not only for the merits of the novel, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest novels of the Maltese literary canon, it is also relevant in the historical sense since this is a prize awarded to an immigrant who writes not in his native language but in the language of his new home country. The fact that the language is Maltese, a minor one in the global hierarchy of languages, and a language known only to the inhabitants of the island of Malta, makes this prize even more particular.

The story and themes of Nabhan’s novel make his rise to the Maltese literary college even more telling as if Nabhan is writing his own story in history through literature itself, distorting the boundary between his literary creativity and the material reality he lives in. L-Eżodu taċ-Ċikonji is an existential tract on a protagonist who tries to understand his identity in a reality of displacement.

This is the reality of the immigrant whose identity is changed by a voyage, and the emergence and assimilation of a new native reality. Displacement is the result of a movement from one place to another and through this process a new identity is created. This movement is caused by the fact that, for some reason or another can not build one’s home and life in one’s native country usually for political reasons or reasons of war. The new identity, the life and culture of the new home-country, which the immigrant is suddenly entangled in, comes into conflict with the old one, yet there is also the new over-all and arching identity of the immigrant himself, an identity comprised of a mixture of the old, the new and their bond through the unintended voyage.

In simpler terms, one can say that Nabhan’s novel is a novel on the spirit of the Arab immigrant who moves to Europe, from the perspective of the immigrant himself, and this is what makes it historically significant. Nabhan’s protagonist is the voice of the immigrant in a new reality and his voice is also the voice of millions of immigrants coming to Europe in our times.

This is a literary genre which is growing, and a genre heralded into Europe by immigrants themselves. In bookshops which sell books in different languages such as Librebook in Brussels you may find a shelf category dedicated to literature by immigrants in Europe, writing in their adopted tongue.

What gives an edge to Nabhan’s novel, is its very critical outlook. There is no romance, nostalgia, patriotism or love for any particular culture in the protagonist’s view. Rather, the protagonist laments on the tragic state of his people, the Arab world, but mostly on the Palestinians. The beauty of L-Eżodu taċ-Ċikonji lies in the thoughtful consideration of the protagonist’s consciousness and the impeccable detail of the representation. Ideology and politics infuse the book, but all of it is sublimated in the personal experience of the protagonist and his sardonic commentary.

In his old identity and previous homeland, the protagonist recalls how old people are always obeyed and their thoughts are never objected to, women are contradictorily inferior and superior to men, but men always end up having the better share of the deal, and male homosexuality is looked down upon because the arsehole is property of the community and not of the individual.

Dictatorship in the Arab world is part and parcel of the social frame of mind and the fruit-seller is as much a dictator as the police and the government. There is no love lost for the protagonist to his old home-country, but there is neither any optimism for the new world he has suddenly found himself in. Albert Camus would have probably responded to Nabhan with great acclamation.

Although this is arguably just the beginning of Nabhan’s writing career, Nabhan has already taken Malta by storm. Furthermore, his great work of literature, so unique as it is, may take over international literary circles too. Already there are plans for his work to be published in London, Beirut, Sofia and Tirana, and this is just the beginning. Nabhan has already gained respect for his impeccable translation of Adrian Grima’s poems into Arabic, published in Egypt, but it will be his works in Maltese which will probably make him one of Malta’s best known authors abroad.

Truly great expectations

Summer is coming, schools will be closing and National Book Prize judges will be busy reading through their book lists. The adjudication process has already started, yet it will take as long as October for the jury to reach their final verdict, right before Malta Book Festival which traditionally opens with the announcement of the Terramaxka Prize for children’s books. The winners of the Prize for adult literature and research categories are announced later in December in a separate ceremony.

Children’s books are becoming increasingly more attractive. Merlin publishers dominated last year’s Terramaxka prize and this comes as no surprise to anyone who has leafed through its books. Merlin’s in-house designer Pierre Portelli needs no introductions, and is well-known in the literary and artistic scene. Merlin prides itself in its varied choice of prestigious artists for its productions. Mingu, penned by renowned author Clare Azzopardi, is illustrated by Lisa Falzon, a Maltese artist who has made a name with her mystical and dream-like paintings. Mingu tells the story of a flamingo that was shot down by a hunter and the book is indicative of a new trend in children’s books, in which authors seek to bring out contemporary and controversial themes in their work. It is hoped that this trend will, in due course, completely supersede the more traditional children’s book type, which depends so heavily on slapstick humour.

Other winners in the children’s categories included Pierre J. Mejlak, a recipient of the European Union Prize for literature, Loranne Vella and John Bonello with his book Irvin Vella: investigatur virtwali a fantasy crime novel for children to ages from 8 to 12. The winner for the ages from 12 to 16 was Djamantini, a collection of poems, stories and illustrations by children from Pembroke’s secondary school; an interesting project made possible thanks to school teacher Sharon Micallef Cann.

The prize for adult novels was once more awarded to a publication by Klabb Kotba Maltin, Alex Vella Gera’s Trojan. Klabb Kotba Maltin has recently emerged as the dominant winner in this category with authors such as Immanuel Mifsud and Walid Nabhan, both recipients of the European Union Prize for Literature. A second-time winner of the Prize, Vella Gera needs no introduction, and his work speaks for itself. With Trojan Alex Vella Gera takes a more sublime route to existential crisis, in contrast to his highly controversial Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi. I will not spoil the book for those who have not read it yet, but in Trojan, a story about a conservative author who made a name from the only book he published, you only get the significant and relevant background at the very end of the story, in a way which illustrates perfectly the art of keeping a secret with all its dark, deep and hidden implications.

A new publisher to enter the college of Book Prize winners is Kite with its astonishing pictorial album of Antonio Sciortino’s models, written and compiled by Gerald Bugeja. Antonio Sciortino: The Lost Album is a collection of a significant number of photographs of models of works by Antonio Sciortino complemented with Bugeja’s insightful commentary on Sciortino’s life and work. The prize in the historiography section went to Keith Sciberras with his important study of the Baroque art of Malta Caravaggio to Mattia Preti, which he shared with Paul George Pisani’s The Battle of Lepanto, 7 October 1571, an unpublished Hospitaller account, a study of the account of the Battle of  Lepanto by Abbot Luc Cenni. The translation category prize was awarded to Edmund Teuma with his translation of the Arabic Nights, published by BDL.

The poetry prize was won by Nadia Mifsud, a Maltese translator working and living in France, with her collection of poems Kantuniera ‘l bogħod. This was probably the most difficult category to adjudicate given that the other entrants included some well-established names such as Adrian Grima and Norbert Bugeja, not to mention Joe P. Galea, whose Bla Qiegħ: Poeżija mit-Trab, published by Horizons, impressed the reading public to the point that the book seemed certain to win the prize. It is being said that Galea will be publishing a novel soon and this is surely a book to watch out for.

A veteran author and a household name, Trevor Żahra carried off the prize in the short-story category with a collection of dark and mysterious stories, Vespri. Published in 2015, the book had been received with accolades of acclaim by both critics and members of the reading public. There can be no doubt that this is one of his best works to date.

Last year a new prize was introduced to award emerging authors, that is, authors who have one or very few publications to their name but who have nonetheless managed to win the attention of critics. The first winner of the Emerging Author Prize is Leanne Ellul, who had already made a name when her debut novel “Gramma” won the National Book Council’s and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ’s Literature for Youth Contest. Gramma is a young-adult novel about anorexia and body-issues with a female voice.

This year round, we once again expect some great titles to awe us and grab our full attention. With regards to the administration and the adjudication of the Prize, the National Book Council continually strives to raise the standards and the level of the adjudication process. The prize will always be highly controversial, since giving a prize to a book and not to another may always be reduced into subjective criteria even though we have a system which is aimed to create the best possible objective outcome. Authors are always invited to speak about the National Book Prize at our consultation meetings and the National Book Council has always given due consideration to their feedback, along with that of the publishers. As the Prize becomes ever more popular, prestigious and sought-after, the National Book Council will find itself more and more intensely scrutinized by the critical eye of our many authors and the reading public. Meanwhile the National Book Council’s adjudication board is busy evaluating last year’s published books.

Happy reading everyone.

The right to insult

Published in Sunday Times of Malta 16/04/2017

Originally, Labour intended to reform press and libel laws to help lift the burden of hefty legal fees, libel damages and fines from a financially beleaguered press. This noble cause was openly embraced by the government until somewhere down the line the principles guiding the drive to libel reform became somewhat skewed.

Government MPs and members of the Cabinet recently made speeches in Parliament which laid bare their true feelings on libel laws – they complained about being unjustly attacked and defamed by their critics. These men in power thought they would have the public’s sympathy simply because their feelings were hurt, but they are deluding themselves if they think the public would ever endorse a libel reform based largely on the misgivings and discomfort of men in power.

The proposed government bill will introduce improvements in some ways. Most of the wording of the civil libel reform is copied from British law, which earned the approval of the English writers’ organisation, PEN. The British defamation act provides a defence against defamation accusations with the concept of honest opinion in matters of public interest.

However, the government’s proposed bill contradicts the aim which it had previously extolled by strengthening criminal libel law and by increasing civil libel damages by almost 100 per cent of their previous value. Where the wording of the original British bill was modified, changes have been made which might seem innocuous but have a larger than perceived impact in practice, such as the replacement of “defamatory statements” with “defamatory words”.

Historically, libel laws have always served to protect institutions and those who are in power and the latest libel case concluded in favour of Transport Minister Joe Mizzi is testament to this. A man took to Facebook to insult the Minister of Transport, describing him as “corrupt” and a “cuckold” in what seems to have been a fit of anger triggered by the fact that the resurfacing of the road next to his house took 10 months to be completed. The court considered the words used by the defendant as simultaneously insulting and defamatory and hit him with €7,000 in damages.

The minister refused to accept the money, but this patronising act, so emblematic of a self-righteous, forgiving Christian, does not change the fact that Mizzi and his colleagues in government subscribe to the view that they should not be insulted and that the law should serve this purpose.

The improvements in the defamation and civil libel law will not materialise if the government retains criminal libel as per article 252 of the Criminal Code. The proposed bill will also add the term “insults” in the already existing article, making criminal libel even more effective. It’s useless if, on one hand, the government tries to make a progressive step forward, while at the same time it retains the status quo which it is supposedly trying to defeat. This is making a mockery of the bill.

The bill can be improved with a thorough examination and an intelligent review. It doesn’t need to be discarded altogether, but one has to be cautious with the wording of laws which, in effect, depend on the proper interpretation of language and words in context. In the Joe Mizzi case the court interpreted the words of the defendant as literal statements of fact. Both in formal and informal settings, insults may not always carry a literal meaning, but are rather meant to invoke a rhetorical effect.

Politicians know this well, they’re not idiots – although we should retain the right to call them so. To protect themselves politicians might instead bring up the excuse of the nanny state.

It may be argued that it is in the interest of law and order that innocent individuals be protected against unjust defamation, but the idea that the State should defend one’s feelings and emotions is bizarre, and only meant to defend the status and position of institutions and men in power.

Our men in power must come to terms with the fact that offending and insulting them comes part and parcel with the package of liberal politics and free speech. I know they are aware of this, but they should also do their duty, put aside their personal interests and do what is right for democracy.

If the government truly wants to keep being progressive in legislative reforms, this time round, it must be bold enough to go against its own innate defence mechanism.

How Not To Cross The €7,000 Line Of Free(ish) Speech

Co-Authored with Ingram Bondin for

An irate man from Birgu was sentenced to pay €7,000 in damages this week for an offensive Facebook post about Transport Minister Joe Mizzi. For 18 months this man had been inconvenienced by roadworks carried out in front of his house. But when he discovered the road next to his had been completed for the Queen’s visit, the man lost his temper, took to Facebook to express his frustration, and, in the court’s opinion, crossed a line worth €7,000.

But what exactly did the man say?

The Court took exception to the fact that the man had, amongst other things, called Mizzi ‘a cuckold’ (kurnut), ‘corrupt’ (korrott) and a ‘vindictive Minister who deeply hates Birgu (ministru vendikattiv bintern li jobod Birgu).

To determine whether these statements were defamatory, the Court sought to distinguish between a statement of fact and a value judgement. While facts can be demonstrated, value judgements cannot be susceptible to proof, because they can be impossible to prove, the court opined.

However, the Court considered the man’s statements literally, as statements of fact. This meant the accused could not defend himself by claiming this was his opinion, but could only defend himself by actually proving that Mizzi was for instance, a cuckold – which to be as literal as the court – is defined as “the husband of an adulteress”.

Presumably, the man could not prove these facts, so his statements were regarded as defamatory and Mizzi was awarded €7,000 in damages.

‘Blatant abuse of social media… and cowardly’

The Court also condemned the man’s behaviour as a blatant abuse of social media. According to the Court, Facebook’s intended use is ‘to bring people closer together, and to make it easier for one to communicate with a few or many people in an immediate and effective manner’.

With this sentence the Court seems to have single-handedly decided upon the legitimate use of social media, restricting expression to diplomatic platitudes with explicit disclaimers that the statements made are only ones of opinion.

The court has also exaggerated the effects of the comments on the Minister’s reputation.  It argued that the fact that such ‘frivolous and capricious’ posts had been shared with no fewer than 700 friends (!), had made them especially harmful to the reputation of the Minister.

The fact that the man had only removed the posts, instead of apologising on his own Facebook account, was also found to be very disconcerting.

Amongst other things, the Court especially disapproved of the fact that the man had insulted the Minister in what it called a brazen and insolent manner, even going to the point of describing his behaviour as cowardly and malign.

It is curious that the Court felt the need to remark on the insults when it was in fact looking to establish whether the words were defamatory or not. For if the Court recognises a word like “cuckold” was intended as an insult, does this not suggest it was not intended as a literal statement of fact?

This is a dangerous precedent

The emphasis placed by the Court on insults is a dangerous precedent to our freedom of speech and comes in the wake of the Government’s new Media and Defamation Bill which aims to strengthen criminal libel by creating a new emphasis on insult as a means of committing defamation.

This change can result in criminal libel being even more far reaching than the existing legislation, since it risks expanding the range of criminalised expressions. Insult has a rhetorical function of its own and one should be careful not to lump it together with defamation in order to appease thin-skinned public figures.

It should go without saying that the right to insult comes part and parcel with the right to freedom of speech and this is also the reason why we should continue to oppose Government’s proposed Media Bill which will further stifle freedom of speech.

Inflated Damages

If there is one thing which sticks out like a sore thumb in this judgement is the exaggerated amount of damages which were awarded to Minister Mizzi in this civil libel case.

While it is true that social media allows one to communicate one’s message to a substantial number of people simultaneously, one has to also consider how seriously the message of the user in question is taken. In this case, its impact seems to have been excessively magnified.

The tenor of the judgement suggests that this man has been made an example of in order to rein in what is perceived to be an excessive freedom of expression.

Lately, it has become commonplace for politicians who find themselves under attack by some section or other of the press to complain that there isn’t enough of a deterrent to stop people from harming their reputation.

The new Media and Defamation Bill itself was marketed as a measure to discipline the excesses of certain prominent blogs. But doubling the maximum damages which can be awarded to €20,000 was always going to affect every press outlet and every citizen who exercises his freedom of expression.

This judgement has made it painfully clear that no one is safe from the increase in repression which will be introduced by the Media Bill in its present form. There will come a time when freedom of speech will no longer be constantly under siege from petty and touchy politicians, but until then we need to keep pushing back against this onslaught.

Stqarrija – Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura – 04/03/2017

L-Abbozz dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama jaqbeż numru ta’ linji ħomor

Il-Front Kontra ċ-Ċensura qiegħed jerġa’ jiġi kostitwit wara li l-Gvern ħareġ b’abbozz li jaqbeż numru ta’ linji ħomor fejn tidħol il-libertà tal-espressjoni. Għalkemm l-Abbozz dwar il-Midja u l-Malafama jagħmel xi titjib fejn tidħol is-sitwazzjoni tal-lum, dan qiegħed jagħmel ukoll numru ta’ passi lura. Il-Gvern qiegħed jimponi tibdil li jmur kontra l-ispirtu tal-manifest elettorali tiegħu fejn tidħol it-tneħħija taċ-ċensura.

Waqt li l-Front jilqa’ t-tneħħija tal-libell oxxen u t-tneħħija tas-sekwestri fil-każijiet ta’ libell, jikkundanna bil-qawwa ż-żieda fid-danni għal-libell ċivili u l-fatt li dan l-abbozz falla għal kollox milli jimplementa t-tneħħija tal-libell kriminali. Il-Front mhuwiex kuntent lanqas dwar ir-reġistrazzjoni tas-servizzi tal-aħbarijiet, ir-restrizzjonijiet il-ġodda fuq il-protezzjoni tas-sorsi, u l-fatt li ma tneħħewx il-liġijiet li jipproteġu l-President minn kull kritika. Il-ħsibijiet dettaljati tal-Front dwar dawn il-kwistjonijiet jidhru aktar ‘l isfel f’din l-istqarrija.

Il-Front jixtieq iħabbar ukoll li qiegħed jilqa’ l-fatt li l-Gvern jidher li lest isewwi dan l-abbozz, iżda fl-istess ħin irid ifakkar lill-Gvern li l-Front mhux lest jagħmel kompromessi fuq punti ta’ prinċipju.

Il-Ħsibijiet tal-Front dwar l-Abbozz

1) Il-Front jilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon it-tneħħija tal-libell oxxen (artikolu 7 tal-Ligi tal-Istampa). Taħt din il-liġi, min jinstab ħati li kiteb ħwejjeġ li joffendu l-morali pubblika jew id-deċenza seta’ jiġi immultat jew jispiċċa saħansitra tliet xhur ħabs. Minħabba l-ambigwità tagħha, din il-liġi ġiet użata fil-passat bħala mezz ta’ repressjoni artistika u għaldaqstant it-tneħħija tagħha hija pass pożittiv. Dan jingħaqad ma’ passi siewja li diġà ttieħdu u li kien saħaq fuqhom il-Front, bħat-tneħħija taċ-ċensura fuq it-teatru, it-tneħħija tal-liġi kontra l-vilifikazzjoni tar-reliġjon u l-bidla tal-liġi kontra l-pornografija ġħal waħda kontra l-pornografija estrema. Wieħed jista’ jgħid li b’dan ġie żarmat ir-reġim taċ-ċensura artistika.

2) Il-Front jilqa’ ukoll b’sodisfazzjoni it-tneħħija tal-mandati ta’ sekwestru fejn huma involuti d-danni li jistgħu jintrebħu f’każ ta’ libell (artikolu 26, subartikolu 6 tal-abbozz). Fil-fehma tal-Front, din il-miżura kienet forma ta’ abbuż legali għaliex is-sekwestru seta’ jintuża bħala forma ta’ theddida fuq l-għajxien ta’ kull ġurnalist, u dan mingħajr ma tkun ġiet aċċertata l-ħtija tal-ġurnalist stess. F’din l-għamla s-sekwestru ma seta’ jkollu l-ebda effett ieħor ħlief li jnissel il-biża’ fil-ġurnalisti li jirrappurtaw ċertu aħbarijiet, bi ħsara kbira fuq ir-rwol li għandha l-istampa biex tiżgura l-kontabbilità ta’ min qiegħed f’pożizzjoni ta’ poter.

3) Il-Front jikkundanna l-fatt li d-danni fejn jidħol il-libell ċivili sejrin jitilgħu minn €11,646.87 għal €20,000 (artikolu 9 tal-abbozz). Il-Front iħoss li dawn id-danni huma eżaġerati u li l-ħarsien tar-reputazzjoni ta’ individwu li jisfa’ fil-mira tal-istampa irid jiġi dejjem bilanċjat mal-ġid pubbliku li joħroġ minn stampa ħielsa. L-ammont ta’ dawn id-danni jista’ mhux biss iwassal sabiex il-gazzetti jibqgħu lura milli jippubblikaw ċertu aħbarijiet, iżda sabiex issir ħsara finanzjarja kbira lill-istampa indipendenti b’tali mod li din ikollha tagħlaq il-bibien tagħha b’detriment għall-pubbliku.

Il-Front jinnota li meta żdiedu l-ammonti tad-danni ma sar l-ebda sforz sabiex dawn ikunu proporzjonali mal-mezzi tal-organu tal-istampa fil-kwistjoni. Għaldaqstant din il-liġi hija waħda klassista li sejra twassal sabiex il-libertà tal-espressjoni ssir il-privileġġ esklussiv ta’ dawk l-organi li huma ffinanzjati tajjeb u li jifilħu jaqilgħu dawn il-ġrieħi, għad-detriment tal-pluraliżmu u d-demokrazija. Il-Front iqis ukoll li ma ntwera bl-ebda mod li l-qliegh tal-istampa f’dawn l-aħħar snin żdied b’mod proporzjonali ma’ din iż-żieda fid-danni. Minghajr dan ma jiġi pruvat, l-argument li hemm bżonn ‘aġġornament’ fil-valur tad-danni ma jagħmel l-ebda sens, sakemm l-intenzjoni m’hix dik li l-liġi tiħrax aktar minn qabel.

Il-Front iqis ukoll li l-aħħar parti tal-artikolu 9 tal-abbozz — fejn jingħad li jistgħu jingħataw ukoll “danni taħt kwalunkwe liġi li tkun fis-seħħ fir-rigward ta’ telf reali inkluż telf ta’ qligħ” — hija waħda perikoluża. Fil-fehma tagħna l-għan ta’ dan il-provvediment mhux ċar. Il-fatt li ġie inkluż taħt subartikolu 9 jindika li l-għan tiegħu huwa differenti minn dak tal-libell kummerċjali, u huwa intiż sabiex jagħti danni li jmorru lil hinn minn dawk għad-diffamazzjoni nnifisha. Tajjeb li wieħed jgħid li t-“telf ta’ qligħ” huwa biss telf potenzjali u li fil-verità la jista’ jiġi kwantifikat u lanqas attribwit b’xi ċertezza għad-diffamazzjoni nnifisha – xi ħaġa li tista’ twassal għall-abbuż. Fuq kollox iżda, mhux ċar għalfejn dan kollu qiegħed jissemma f’artikolu 9 tal-abbozz, ladarba imbagħad tissemma li dawn id-danni jingħataw taħt liġijiet oħra.

4) Il-Front m’hu xejn sodisfatt bir-riforma fil-libell kriminali. Dan għaliex l-artikolu li jirregola d-diffamazzjoni kriminali (artikolu 252 tal-Kodiċi Kriminali) mhux sejjer jitneħħa. Minflok dan qiegħed jiġi emendat b’mod konfuż għall-aħħar (artikolu 25, subartikolu (d) tal-abbozz).

L-ewwel osservazzjoni tal-Front hija li dan ir-reat sejjer jibqa’ japplika fis-sustanza tiegħu, u min jinstab ħati jista’ xorta waħda jiġi immultat u jeħel sa tliet xhur ħabs.

It-tieni osservazzjoni hi li għalkemm l-emenda tneħħi ir-reat ta’ diffamazzjoni meta dan isir bil-“kitba, dinsinji jew xi mod ieħor”, din sejra tħallih meta dan isir bi “kliem, b’ġesti, b’insulti jew xi mod ieħor”. Jekk l-intenzjoni tal-leġiżlatur kienet li jneħħi dan ir-reat meta jsir bil-kitba u jżommu meta jsir bil-fomm, dan ma rnexxiex fl-intenzjoni tiegħu ghaliex b’ “xi mod ieħor” tinkludi ukoll diffamazjoni meta din issir permess tal-istampa.

It-tielet osservazzjoni hi li bit-tibdil li qiegħed jiġi propost, il-leġiżlatur qiegħed ukoll imur lil hinn mil-liġi kif inhi llum. Dan qiegħed isir billi tiġi inkluża il-kelma ‘insulti’ fil-modi li jridu jiġu ikkunsidrati meta l-Maġistrat jew l-Imħallef iqis jekk saritx id-diffamazzjoni kriminali. Tajjeb li wieħed jinnota li ‘insulti’ huma ‘kliem’ ukoll, u li din iż-żieda kienet tkun żejda li kieku i-leġiżlatur ma riedx jagħti importanza speċjali lil dan il-mod kif tista’ titwettaq diffamazzjoni kriminali. Il-Front jemmen li din iż-żieda kienet waħda żgwidata u sejra twassal sabiex ir-reat ta’ diffamazzjoni kriminali jibda japplika għall-forom ġodda ta’ espressjoni li ma kienux jaqgħu taħt ir-reat li għandna llum.

Il-Front jixtieq itemm dwar din il-kwistjoni billi jgħid li ma jara ebda sens fl-idea li l-libelli fl-istampa jiġu trattati ċivilment waqt li tintuża liġi kriminali meta d-diffamazzjoni ssir bil-fomm. Dan l-arranġament mhux konsistenti u huwa kkumplikat iżżejjed, u jista’ jiġi simplifikat billi jkun hemm liġi waħda ta’ diffamazzjoni ċivili li tiġbor iż-żewġ każijiet taħtha.

5) Il-Front ma jaqbilx ukoll mal-fatt li l-edituri ta’ siti elettroniċi għandhom jirreġistraw mal-Gvern (artikolu 29, subartikolu 2 tal-abbozz). Dan minħabba l-fatt li id-definizzjoni ta’ sit elettroniku hija ambigwa u wiesgħa wisq. Infatti din tinkludi ukoll “kwaluknwe servizz ieħor relatat mal-aħbarijiet jew ġrajjiet kurrenti”, u b’hekk tista’ twassal sabiex individwi b’sit elettroniku li jaqsmu l-opinjoni tagħhom fuq l-internet jispiċċaw jiġu mmultati sa €1,000 ghaliex dawn ma rreġistrawx ruħhom. Huwa diffiċli temmen li l-leġiżlatur kellu din l-intenzjoni, u wieħed għandu joqgħod attent li ma jispiċċax ipoġġi tfixkil finanzjarju għad-dritt tal-espressjoni ħielsa fuq l-Internet.

Il-Front ma jaqbilx ukoll mal-fatt li l-protezzjoni tas-sorsi għandha tapplika biss għal servizzi ta’ aħbarijiet li jirreġistraw ruħhom u għall-ġurnalisti li abitwalment jipprattikaw din il-professjoni fuq bażi full-time jew part-time (artikolu (21) subartikolu (2)). Għal dan inħossu li hemm tliet raġunijiet. L-ewwel raġuni hija li l-użu ta’ sorsi jista’ ikun importanti għall-kategoriji ta’ nies oħra barra dawk imsemmija – ngħidu aħna attivisti jew ġurnalisti-ċittadini. It-tieni, il-mod kif qiegħed jiġi mrażżan dan id-dritt mhux konsistenti mal-importanza u l-protezzjoni li qiegħda tingħata lilu minn artikolu (21) subartikolu (1) tal-abbozz. It-tielet raġuni hija li l-Qrati taw definizzjoni wiesgħa ħafna ta’ min jikwalifika bħala ġurnalist u fl-opinjoni tagħna hawnhekk qiegħed isir attentat żgwidat sabiex jiżdiedu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq dan id-dritt.

6) Il-Front jinnota li l-artikolu 72 tal-Kodiċi Kriminali, li jikkastiga lil min juri nuqqas ta’ qima lejn il-President qiegħed jiġi mibdul minn dan l-abbozz (artiklu 25, sub artiklu (b)). Il-Front ma jistax jifhem għala ma ttieħdetx din l-opportunità sabiex dan ir-reat jitneħħa għal kollox. Anki fil-forma aktar mansa li qiegħed jipproponi dan l-abbozz, dan ir-reat jibqa’ anakroniżmu li mhux kompatibbli mal-liberta’ tal-espressjoni. Ma jistax ikun li persuna għadha tista’ tiġi mmultata jew mibgħuta bejn xahar u tliet xhur ħabs sempliċement għaliex ma tapprovax għemil il-President. F’Repubblika fejn iċ-ċittadini huma kollha l-istess quddiem il-liġi. Il-President ma jista’ jistenna l-ebda protezzjoni mill-kritika, speċjalment la darba dan huwa ħieles li jieħu pożizzjonijiet politiċi u jmexxi ‘il quddiem kawżi li jsibu l-favur tiegħu.