The parliamentary committee set up in January to define what constituted an obscenity is still “at the initial stages”, according to Labour MP Owen Bonnici, who had pushed for its establishment.

Dr Bonnici, who sits on the committee with MPs Evarist Bartolo, Beppe Fenech Adami and Francis Zammit Dimech, said there had been preliminary talks but he hoped work shifted up a gear soon and was optimistic there would be progress.

The definition of what constitutes an obscenity, last updated in 1975, became even more pertinent this week after an amendment to the Criminal Code came into force on Friday raising the maximum penalty for distributing or displaying “pornographic or obscene” material from imprisonment for six months and a fine of €465.87 to 12 months and a fine of €3,000.

The amendment law, which included various other changes stiffening the penalties for exposing or soliciting children to sexual activity, selling or acquiring child pornography, was approved unanimously in Parliament on June 15.

The Front Against Censorship lambasted the changes, pointing out that, in the absence of a clear definition of obscenity, the law could be used to prosecute cases such as that of student editor Mark Camilleri and writer Alex Vella Gera, who landed in court over a satirical story detailing the sexual exploits of a man in explicit language on issue eight of campus magazine Ir-Realtà.

The issue was banned from campus.

The Front said it was “disappointed at the fact that instead of repealing the harsh prison terms, which would be the shame of any European nation, the law has actually been amended to increase them”. “Whoever voted in favour of this Act not only agreed with the draconian proceedings taken against the student newspaper but also wanted to punish such activities more harshly”.

In a reaction, the Justice Ministry accused the Front of opposing amendments “intended to protect children from sexual exploitation, pornography and grooming on the internet with the intent of engaging them in sexual acts and paedophilia”.

The Front Against Censorship denied condoning child pornography and instead issued a set of proposals calling for the abolishment of censorship in Malta.

It suggested changing the definition of pornography from work featuring the “exploitation of, or unnecessary emphasis on, sex, criminality, fear, cruelty and violence” to “any product which graphically depicts sexual acts with the intent of causing sexual arousal”.

It also called for the removal of articles in the Criminal Code imposing a jail term for anyone vilifying Catholicism or any cult tolerated by law as well as the abolition of the centrally-appointed classification board for drama and film, calling instead for a list of publicly available “established and transparent criteria”, updated in the light of the international situation, to be used during the classification process.

Moreover, it called for the removal of article 7 of the Press Act which lays down a jail term of up to three months for “directly or indirectly” injuring public morals through the media.

Finally, it called for a removal of the wording of article 13 in the Broadcasting Act which says that ‘‘nothing is included in the programmes which offends religious sentiment, good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling’’ and replace it with a paragraph which allows such mentioned content from 10 p.m. onwards.

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