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  • Writer's pictureSean Buhagiar

STATEMENT - 19 June 2023 (Satire law tabled in Parliament)

I was very glad to hear that the Prime Minister has announced an improved bill safeguarding satire and artistic expression, which is being discussed in Parliament as I write. I would like to thank the Prime Minister and all the ministers involved for their swift action and public stance on the matter.

I now encourage everyone in the cultural sphere to apply the same standards to all forms of art, from religious parody to political satire, in theatre, comedy and particularly local television. This law can further protect writers, cartoonists, satirists, comedians and more - it could much bigger than just this case. After all, as satirist Dario Fo put it in his acceptance speech for the Nobel in 1997: a theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time, becomes irrelevant. A speech titled Contra Jogulatores Obloquentes: Against Jesters Who Defame and Insult. A speech which makes far better reading than this statement.

Many interesting articles were written. Here are some quick things I wanted to say without making this too long too read by social media standards.

1. While my case may have received more attention since I was the third in a row to be charged, it is important to note the situation of Matt Bonanno, the owner of Bis-Serjetà, who has faced reports twice in row. As the proprietor of a satirical enterprise, it's practically form of harassment. I hope this bill provides even stronger protection for such enterprises, considering the potential benefits they bring to our online ecosystem. When compared to countries like Italy or England, satire is not as widely utilized as a form of entertainment. We need to safeguard these artists, as art is also a means of making a living. Daniel Xuereb was working during his comedy show and he was charged. That was my initial point, and it remains my stance today. 2. Some people have argued that this form of expression could be categorized as hate speech (i.e. asshole or carpet bombing) and should be treated with the same scrutiny as the recent case involving Fr David. However, they are not equivalent. My defence was in relation to a satirist's joke and a joke during a comedy show, which falls within the realm of artistic expression. 3. Furthermore, even satire and comedy can be subject to artistic direction. There is good satire and bad satire, just as there is good comedy and bad comedy. If an artistic director deems something to be of poor quality, it is not censorship but rather curating. Being bad satire, or bad comedy does not make it subject to criminal charges any more than good comedy would. I saw comments arguing that calling someone an asshole should not be considered art, but in the context of what happened they are missing the wood for the trees. 4. I hope this bill, which I have yet to thoroughly read, includes some form of deterrent for such cases. While everyone has the right to free speech and the right to be offended, being offended does not automatically make the speech illegal or even insensitive—it simply means you are personally offended. An artist or comedian should not be subject to any threshold of personal sensitivity. Having said that, everyone has the right to take legal action if they believe they have been threatened (although I really think it should not be the police charging criminally) but if such threats are proven to be null and are determined to be a form of art or satire by the court, the person who brought the case should be held liable for the damages caused, not just the costs incurred. If Matt and Daniel were found liable for a very hefty fine and/or jail time, then the apstor should also be liable for a significant sum of money for taking them to court over what was clearly satire and comedy, as determined by the court. That might be a deterrent to this misuse of the law. I am no lawyer, but it's a point I feel could be made.

In any case, I am very pleased that this issue has garnered so much attention, and I hope that this new protection will pave the way for stronger and better satire, comedy, and art.

Sean Buhagiar

On Saturday I will be talking more about the above to Andrew Azzopardi on his show on 103FM.

Robert Abela, Owen Bonnici, Byron Camilleri

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