PBS blacks out politician shoe-hurling satire
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PBS blacks out politician shoe-hurling satire

A video grab from the offending scene in which former AD chairman Arnold Cassola is asked to hurl a shoe at three tins which featured the faces of the President, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

A video grab from the offending scene in which former AD chairman Arnold Cassola is asked to hurl a shoe at three tins which featured the faces of the President, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

The anti-censorship movement has deplored a decision by Public Broadcasting Services Ltd to black out part of an entertainment show in which contestants were asked to throw shoes at tins featuring photos of politicians and the President.

The game was meant to be part of the satirical VIP Xow aired on TVM on Monday. It involved hurling shoes at pictures of President George Abela, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat. But instead viewers could only see a black screen when this sequence was supposedly aired.

PBS editor Natalino Fenech said the decision had nothing to do with censorship. When he saw the clip he thought it was “in bad taste and illegal”.

“Apart from the fact it is illegal to ridicule the President, I find it in bad taste to throw a shoe at a person’s image. Had the tins had images of a cow, a duck and a dog, I would have still asked for the sequence to be removed because throwing a shoe at the image of a person or an animal sends a wrong message and has nothing to do with satire,” he said.

In the case of the President’s image, there was a legal problem too, he noted. The Press Act says that whoever uses “defamatory, insulting or disparaging words, acts or gestures” in contempt of the President would be committing a criminal offence liable to a jail term of up to three months or a fine.

“I would not be surprised if they face legal action, given that the clip was shown on YouTube and Facebook... Had I allowed the clip to be broadcast, the police would have been correct to prosecute me as I am legally responsible for the content aired on TVM,” Dr Fenech said.

The clip was removed from the video sharing site after the VIP Xow team were advised to pull it off by their lawyer, presenter Chrysander Agius said.

“The law is there and I respect it even though I might not agree with it... When the script was written it did not cross our mind it was in bad taste or potentially illegal,” he said, adding it was just meant to be funny.

Mr Agius pointed out the UK had similar laws, making it illegal to make fun of the Queen, however, they were not applied rigidly and there was room for comedy.

On Monday’s show, Alternattiva Demokratika’s former chairman Arnold Cassola was one of four guests of the popular comic trio Zoo.

The blacked out part involved the shoe-throwing game aimed at poking fun at the fact that AD never won at election. When it was Prof. Cassola’s turn to play, the tins were brought very close to him so he could hit them easily, knock them down and “finally win something” – a play on AD’s lack of electoral success.

Ingram Bondin, from the Front Against Censorship, said in a statement yesterday: “In a democracy, politicians should have no special right to be shielded from satire. In fact, this is harmful as it prevents the media from dispelling cults of personality, which may have been constructed around particular public figures.”

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