News | Sunday, 03 January 2010

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Muscat gets cold feet over censorship abolition

Labour MP Owen Bonnici (pictured) has penned a private member’s Bill to abolish the censorship board, which has however not been warmly received by Labour leader Joseph Muscat, this newspaper is informed.
Bonnici’s abolition bill was briefly mentioned in a recent meeting of the Labour party’s executive committee. But sources say the young MP’s proposal to push for the abolition of the controversial censorship board was not supported eagerly by Joseph Muscat.
Contacted by this newspaper, Bonnici denied having ever spoken to Muscat about his draft bill.
But MaltaToday is informed that the young MP, who is the party’s spokesperson for youth and culture, has privately communicated to others that the Opposition leader was having cold feet on his personal initiative.Although clearly in line with Muscat’s self-declared ‘progressive agenda’, it is understood that the anti-censorship bill would never have garnered any support from the government side, which will not allow the Opposition to set the agenda in parliament.
But like previous claims by Muscat to present his own private member’s bill on divorce – so far never presented – Bonnici’s anti-censorship bill, it seems, will never see the light of day.
In short, the bill proposes that censorship be abolished by redefining the role of the board currently chaired by Therese Friggieri.
Instead, the board would simply be in charge of the issuing of ratings for cinematic and theatrical releases. While the board will not be able to censor any part of the theatrical production, it can issue a special warning as to its contents. But their decision can also be contested by producers, who can ask for a revision of the decision.
Although the bill is ready to be presented in parliament, Bonnici told MaltaToday that he has not considered presenting it because education minister Dolores Cristina “had publicly announced she was all out in favour of removing censorship.”
“She went on record through a parliamentary reply, saying government was in the process of launching a cultural policy that is expected to remove censorship from films or theatrical performances,” Bonnici said.
The government document is believed to be still awaiting the opinion of the Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs on the removal of censorship, before being published.
But Bonnici denied having spoken to Joseph Muscat about the draft bill, although he claimed that whenever he spoke about the issue of censorship, he was always given support by the party leadership.
The bill was written by Bonnici at the height of the ban on the award-winning play ‘Stitching’, currently the subject of a civil case against the censorship board by the Unifaun production company.
Should the law be passed through parliament, it would reverse decades of censorship of films and theatrical productions by the censorship board – officially the Film and Stage Classification Board – that saw repressive acts of censorship ranging from the cutting out of vaguely sexual and kissing scenes from films in the 1950s and 60s, such as Rock Hudson’s and Doris Day’s three-second kiss in ‘Pillow Talk’; to the recent ban of Stitching, on the grounds that it contains blasphemy against the State religion, contempt for the victims of Auschwitz and references to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of children.
The ‘Stitching’ ban also attracted international criticism, with The Guardian’s theatre correspondent Andrew Haydon taking the Maltese government to task for operating theatrical censorship, arguing that “it is unacceptable that the police force of a European democracy in the 21st century has the power to issue notices ordering that a play is not performed."

Celluloid censorship and theatre bans

1959 In ‘Pillow Talk’, Rock Hudson’s three-second smooch with Doris Day gets cut by the censorship board

1989 Censors withhold Martin Scorsese’s controversial film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ from viewing in local cinemas. A video version of the film, on sale at Il-Monti open-air market in Valletta, was also withdrawn from sale on public orders.

1996 John Webster’s play ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ is censored by the Ministry of the Arts which ordered the director to cut a scene where the Duchess, about to be unjustly executed, kicks a small crucifix across the stage. When the theatre company refused to comply, the request became an order and blasphemy laws were quoted.

2009 Andrew Nielsen’s award-winning drama ‘Stitching’ was banned by the censorship board, on the grounds that it contains blasphemy against the State religion, contempt for the victims of Auschwitz and references to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of children.


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