Parliamentary Secretary for Valletta 2018 Deo Debattista defended V18 chairman Jason Micallef's controversial comments about Daphne Caruana Galizia on grounds of "freedom of expression".

Dr Debattista was questioned by reporters whether he intended to ask Mr Micallef to step down, amid mounting pressure by MEPs and foreign and local artists who deem the chairman's comments unacceptable. 

MEPs and artists said Mr Micallef's vilification of Ms Caruana Galizia, even after her assassination, and the calls to clear the memorial in her tribute in Valletta and for banners demanding for justice to be removed are actions they considered incompatible with those of an official that represents the European Capital of Culture.

Mr Micallef created a stir last month when he posted a picture of the big crowd for the St Patrick's Day celebration in St Julian's and in a twist of the last words written by Ms Caruana Galizia, wrote: "St Patrick's Day in Malta. The situation is desperate. There is happy people everywhere you look."

Read: Jason Micallef slammed as 'outrageous' by international writers

More than 100 local artists have since signed a petition urging Mr Micallef to leave his post. 

Dr Debattista said "it does not mean that something will become true just because of a petition", though he insisted the government has "listened to the call".

He defended Mr Micallef's track record, lauding his "great work" in running projects related to Valletta 2018.

Insisted that Valletta 2018 was an apolitical and non-partisan event, Dr Debattista called for moderation in public discourse, warning "not to forget about the Paris attacks".

Dr Debattista conceded that the V18 chairman should be “held to a higher standard” and said he spoke to Mr Micallef numerous times since the calls for his resignation emerged.

He did not clarify whether he addressed the calls for resignations in his conversations with Mr Micallef.


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