Malta's Board of Film and Stage Classification submitted in court a list of policy guidelines used by local censors to decide on ratings
for films and theatre productions.
This was at the request of Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon in the ongoing Constitutional case regarding this year's ban on Stitching .
This is the first time that the board's internal policy guidelines have ever been made public, and what immediately leaps to the eye is an apparent contradiction between the directions given to classifiers with regard to theatrical performances,
and the way these same performances are classified in practice. In the section subtitled Stage Performances , the final sentence reads: As with films, the classifier must take a decision after considering each work globally, as much for
its visual impact, as for the message the work tries to put across. But members of the same board never watch a performance before deciding what rating to give a stage play. The reason for this is that the classifiers' rating has to be issued before
any play can be performed in a Maltese theatre: a fact which makes it physically impossible to rate any play on the basis of its visual impact. Instead, the censors limit themselves to reading the script: which as a rule gives little or no indication
of the play's effect on a visual level.
In fact, individual members of the censorship board have testified in court that they had not watched Andrew Nielsen's Stitching before deciding to ban it altogether. In justifying the ban, the Film and Stage Classification Board chairperson
Theresa Friggiri cited four taboo topics that led to the decision: blasphemy; obscene contempt for the victims of Auschwitz ; dangerous sexual perversions leading to sexual servitude ; and reference to the abduction, sexual
assault and murder of children ... the latter including a eulogy to the child murderers, Fred and Rosemary West. However, it remains difficult to grasp how the censors could have reached this decision after considering the work globally,
as much for its visual impact as for the message it tried to get across .
The cinema section therefore features a number of specific criteria by which to rate a film. The criteria for film are: theme; language; violence; nudity; sex; horror; drugs; faith and religion. For each of the five possible film ratings – U, PG,
12, 16, 18 – the application each criterion is re-evaluated for the age-group concerned. Language, for instance, is taken into consideration before giving as U certificate, but not for 18, and so on.
No such detail is provided in the theatre section, which by way of contrast occupies only the final few paragraphs of the entire document. This section, which loosely refers to film and theatre being different media which require different approaches,
appears to allow the Board maximum discretion in the absence of any clear guidelines whatsoever. A typical example concerns the guidelines for nudity on stage, which consist in a single sentence: While nudity may be permissible on film, this is
not normally accepted on stage. But the guidelines offer no indication of what circumstances may make nudity acceptable on stage.