The anti-Muslim remarks made by the Guardian of Future Generations were “completely unacceptable,” President George Vella has said.
Guardian of Future Generations Maurice Mizzi raised eyebrows last week when he told The Sunday Times of Malta that Muslims “were taking over” and that the country should stop all migrants from coming in.
“There’s no beating about the bush,” Dr Vella told Times of Malta yesterday. “Categorically, I am saying they are completely unacceptable.”
However, the President refused to comment on whether Mr Mizzi should be asked to step down.
“That is the minister’s decision,” he said.
Environment Minister José Herrera said he was still considering whether to dismiss Mr Mizzi, insisting he had always known him to be a “good man”.
Dr Vella was speaking following a Stop Hate campaign conference in Valletta, which delved into the problem of hate speech in Malta and its proliferation.
Even locally, xenophobic and racist movements are openly using hate speech
Only distancing oneself from xenophobic statements without condemning them plays into the hands of extremist groups, sending a very poor message to the rest of the population, he told the audience during an opening speech.
He also commented on the media’s role, saying words linking migration to an “invasion” might seem attractive, but have been proven not to be conducive to informative and impartial journalism.
“While recognising that punitive measures and a criminalisation of hate speech are necessary, I believe that on their own they fail to counter the proliferation of hate speech,” he said. He called for a holistic approach to stop hate.
“It is painful to note that even locally xenophobic and racist movements are openly using hate speech and making their presence felt at national level,” Dr Vella said.
“It is even more troubling that these sentiments are sometimes echoed by political and public figures in Malta,” he said. “One should question what impact similar comments have on aspiring young politicians, party supporters and society in general,” Dr Vella added.
Speaking during the debate, Times of Malta online editor Herman Grech and The Shift News co-founder Caroline Muscat said they have sought to reduce hate speech from their news portals, but called out government entities and state media that continue fuelling stereotypes.
Ms Muscat noted that politicians have played a part in making hate speech mainstream. Mr Grech said it was not enough for politicians to make certain statements before an election.
The problem, he added, was also that social media giants like Facebook were out of control, providing a platform for hate.
“Sometimes, empty vessels make the loudest sounds,” he said, insisting that it was not enough for people to stay silent but they had a duty to call out xenophobia and racism.
Integra Foundation head Maria Pisani noted that tokenistic statements from politicians were not enough, citing a series of examples which showed that racism was being institutionalised, often inadvertently.
Government representative Diane Galea said authorities were looking at establishing a national agency on hate crime. People needed to focus on inclusion, not only integration, she said.
Ms Muscat, however, was quick to point out that many of the institutions look “fantastic” on paper but are often under-resourced or ineffective.
The discussion, in fact, underlined the need to facilitate the process of reporting hate and racism.
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