President George Vella urged politicians and journalists to avoid hate speech during a press conference on Hate Speech on March 17.
Maltese President George Vella opened the conference called ‘Hate Speech: Challenged in Schools’, urging politicians, journalists and social media influencers to avoid hate speech, whether online or offline, reports the Times of Malta.
„I urge politicians, journalists, social influencers, employers and people of prominence to always consider their words and actions,” he said. „In particular, I urge you to avoid this type of language when it comes to politics.”
Vella’s comments come hours after fiery exchanges in parliament, a debate characterised by heated exchanges and accusations. The sitting had to be suspended.
The night before the conference, the Institute of Maltese journalists noted that the level of respect towards journalists was continuing its downward trend as authorities and politicians continued to „denigrate the sector with certain comments targeting journalists.”
On Friday, President Valla warned that „unity could not be built on fighting, teasing, disrespect and threatening words. This brings division, exclusion, and disgust. Hate should never win over mutual respect.”
According to Maltese law, hate speech is defined as a threat or insult directed at a member of a recognised minority group. It is classified as harmful or threatening remarks to attack a person on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. It is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and the perpetrator may receive heavy fines, which could reach thousands of Euros.
In his speech, Vella said that the conference aims to understand what hate speech means, the root of what causes such discourse and how it can be stopped. He noted that while respect should be taught from birth, compulsory education is crucial in fighting hate speech.
Photo credit: Francis Debono