The controversial censorship of films, plays and literature is under review, Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco has announced.

The review comes as Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Culture Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco yesterday launched the National Culture Policy, which sets out the government’s vision for culture taken in a broad sense.

Dr de Marco said responsibility for classification and censorship would move from the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs to the ministry in charge of culture, that is, the Office of the Prime Minister. He announced that lawyer Jeanine Rizzo was assessing the relevant legislation to see what could be done.

Stakeholders are being consulted for their feedback and different scenarios are being considered.

The issue of censorship was thrust into the national limelight again in 2009 when Stitching – a controversial play by Anthony Neilson – was banned from being staged at the small theatre in St James Cavalier, Valletta.

The producer, the cast and the director had filed a Constitutional Court case claiming a breach of their freedom of expression following a decision by Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon who had upheld the Classification Board’s decision to ban the play.

Commenting on the review, Stitching director Chris Gatt said such an exercise was “essential if the country is going to go forward”.

“We cannot have a situation where the artist is considered to be immature and not being capable of making the correct decisions. Artists need to be responsible, yes, but whenever you have censorship you not only threaten the fundamental freedom of expression but you also threaten an aspect of art that is also fundamental to what art is, in other words to discuss awkward things.

“Art cannot always be comfortable or pleasant. The aesthetics of art also cover things we do not necessarily want to discuss. It is how society can debate. Without asking the awkward questions you can never have a debate,” Mr Gatt said.

“Democracy cannot exist where there is censorship. Let us not forget that, in Malta, censorship was introduced under colonial rule”.

The Cinema and Stage Regulations, which govern classification and censorship, are part of the Code of Police Laws, which place it under the jurisdiction of the police and the Justice and Home Affairs Ministry.

The proposed culture policy says that “the ministry responsible for culture shall lead in the provision of policy, direction and advice on the arts, heritage and audio­visuals, in particular on issues affecting their cultural and creative content”.

It also says that “in terms of freedom of expression, legislation shall be reviewed in order to ensure that the classification of works reflects the maturity of a 21st century public in a contemporary society”.

The former artistic director of the Manoel Theatre, Tony Cassar Darien, said this was a “step in the right direction, something has to happen”.

“Nowadays, everyone realises that the system of censorship, the existing boards, are a bit passé”, Mr Cassar Darien said, adding he hoped the new system would see more dialogue between the board and production companies.

Media analyst Fr Joe Borg said the idea of doing away with censorship and introducing classification instead already applied to television, adding that “in principle, if for drama the same rules apply as for television, there’s no problem”.

He said that, despite there being no censorship beforehand, if anything illegal happened during a show the producers would still be liable to prosecution.

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