Labour parades as being progressive, liberal and feminist. Yet it seems to be so only when the interests of oligarchs are not affected.

Its recent parliamentary vote against legislative reforms to protect Maltese journalists and media houses from SLAPP is a case in point.

The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is being used by Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners to stop journalists from doing their job. Readers needn’t be reminded about the controversies surrounding these companies. Through SLAPP, international court cases could cripple journalists due to hefty legal costs, often leaving the same journalists with no option but to withdraw their writings.

Hence, in Malta we are allowed to offend religion, but we are not protected from investigating Pilatus Bank or Henley & Partners. In the meantime, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici is clearly more willing to protect these two companies than Maltese journalists.

This is hardly surprising given Labour’s deficit in governance. What is perhaps more disappointing is the silence of the so-called ‘Front Against Censorship’. 

This Front is led by Mark Camilleri and was very vocal prior to the 2013 general election. Camilleri canvassed for Bonnici in the respective electoral campaign and after Labour’s victory Camilleri was appointed chairman of the National Book Council.

The priorities of the Front Against Censorship seemed to change under Labour administrations

Before the 2017 general election, Camilleri was quoted by the Malta Independent (May 29) that he will vote for Labour’s Helena Dalli and would give his second preference to the Green Party. He also said that Simon Busuttil is more corrupt that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Needless to say, after Labour’s successive victory Camilleri retained his post as chairman of the National Book Council.

In the meantime, the priorities of the Front Against Censorship seemed to change under Labour administrations. Its current silence on SLAPP and on threats to press freedom are a case in point. I would have expected a demonstration by the Front during last week’s parliamentary session on SLAPP. Perhaps Camilleri had very long working hours within the book council.

Interestingly, the Front Against Censorship has also used censorship tactics itself. I myself experienced this when I was banned from its Facebook discussion group by Camilleri himself some months ago.

I posted about threats to musicians who were going to play in a concert and about the censorship tactics being used against Jonathan Ferris who, to date has not been given whistle-blower status, despite Labour’s boasting about whistleblower legislation.

We can now safely say that the Front Against Censorship is led by a person whose credentials against censorship are inconsistent and untenable. But I guess its up to the Front’s members (whoever they are) to look into this, given that he does not seem to get it.

Labour’s support of SLAPP attempts against journalists has also been faced by silence by quite other conspicuous participants of Malta’s public sphere.

In a normal democracy, the artistic community would be up in arms about this. Some artists have spoken up, some others could not be bothered and yet others seem to be afraid to do so.  The same can be said for Malta’s intellectual community.

Fear of speaking up should not be taken lightly. I appreciate that various academics and artists depend on government funds for contracts, consultancy, expositions and so forth.

There is nothing wrong in this itself, but if such funding conditions free speech then we should be asking important questions.

For example, to what extent is partisan loyalty required to win contracts? Which seductive and sanctioning tactics are used by government to influence free speech? To what degree do artists and academics sanction themselves? What happens if an academic or artist who depends on government funds speaks up on such matters?

One should also mention academics and artists who refuse government funding precisely so that their free speech and expression are not affected. Unlike the Mark Camilleris of our world, their expressions and opinions on censorship are not dependent on who is in government and what they personally obtain. 

Hats off to them.

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