Police censor "no balls" poster - maltastar.com
david vella
26 June 2007

During Monday’s environmentalists’ protest march in Republic Street, members of the NGO ‘Graffitti Movement’ were censored by police, who felt that their “Mepa bla bajd” [Mepa has no balls] poster was offensive and obscene.

Before the protest started, police officers approached the organisation’s members holding the placard, and asked them to take it away. At first Graffitti opposed, insisting that police had no right to censor them. But eventually, a top police official intervened, and instructed police to seize the three placards bearing the same slogan.

At the same time, the police found nothing wrong in other aggressive posters, such as “il-huta minn rasha tinten”, a Maltese expression used to cast doubts of corruption and malpractices at an entity’s topmost level of authority. Even the protesters’ chants that “Mepa is a mafia” remained unchecked.

"Mepa breaks the rules"

Most of the placards carried by the 1,500 strong crowd called for the protection of the pristine Ramla l-Hamra bay, where the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) has recently granted a permit for the building of 23 villas with pools, and other areas currently threatened by development – Hondoq ir-Rummien, Ta’ Cenc, and Tal-Kus, in Mgarr ix-Xini.

Others targeted Mepa, the authority that is allowing construction at Ramla l-Hamra, metres away from two sites listed for protection due to their historical and ecological protection. One poster changed the authority’s acronym into MEDA, “Malta Environment Destruction Authority”. Others read “Mepa rules – you make them, you break them” and “Outlaw Mepa”.

An elaborately printed poster suggested that police should dedicate their efforts to investigating the government authority: “Police should investigate the bank and property holdings of Mepa board members, senior officials, and case officers… stop the rot”.

"Bla bajd" - a common Maltese phrase

But the only placard that attracted the authorities’ attention was the “bla bajd” poster. When a police officer’s request to put down the placard was ignored, a top police official was called in. For some time, Dr Harry Vassallo, the Alternattiva Demokratika chairman, tried to talk the police officers into leaving the posters march on, but even this was in vain.

“The expression used is a common phrase in the Maltese language, and thus the police may not have been legally correct to censor the poster” a legal advisor told maltastar.com, “individuals have a right to make a fair comment, and this was a fair comment, in the sense that it did not refer to sexual organs, but was used as an expression to signify that the entity in question has no clout, no courage, or no power”. The same consultant also reminded that the police decision may have even breached the fundamental right to freedom of expression by seizing the environmentalists’ poster.

Graffitti's reaction

When contacted, David Pisani, a spokesperson for Graffitti, said that this is not the first time that the organisation was stopped from expressing itself. “Such a strong reaction to our placard by the police authorities may have been over restrictive, leading to clear concerns regarding the actual protection of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Whilst understanding that the police authorities have every duty to uphold public order, such a placard by no stretch of the imagination could have been interpreted as possibly leading to a state of civil disorder, particularly in the context that it was being utilised, that is in a symbolic protest against the unsustainable decisions that are being taken by Mepa with regards to environmental issues".

Pisani insisted that Graffitti had every right to express its concerns “in widely-utilised populist terms that every layman clearly understands, if not uses to express themselves in everyday terms".

Memories of Claire's poster

Controversial posters are becoming synonymous with environmentalists’ protests. The “bla bajd” poster brings back memories of Dr Claire Bonello’s notorious placard “Vote George, Get Lorry”, which she sported during the first of the environmentalists’ protests against government in 2006. The poster had forced Nationalist Minister George Pullicino to defend himself against its implications during a press conference and even Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi stepped in to defend him.

“The only thing that the prime minister can think of is a 40 cents poster hastily painted up in between watering the plants and buying the newspaper... a flimsy cardboard poster has got the Nationalists wheeling out their big guns only to shoot themselves in the foot”.
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26 Jun 2007 by Saveramla.com