Updated with Minister for Culture and Arts Jose Herrera’s response.
The public has reacted with outrage at a post by former V18 Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi in which he vilified MEP Roberta Metsola, saying “everybody hated her”.
On Monday, Azzopardi uploaded a photo of Metsola with the words: “How difficult it is not to hate this sick woman. How can she sleep at night, knowing that the country hates her with a passion? They hate you, Roberta”.
His post encouraged comments from individuals calling Metsola a traitor. “In the better days, she would have been hung for treason,” one commenter said using the same language that dehumanised journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia until her assassination.
Azzopardi’s theatre company Stagun Teatru Malti continues to benefit from public funds, working closely with the Manoel Theatre. Culture Minister Jose Herrera has yet to condemn Azzopardi’s behaviour. Questions sent to the Minister have not yet been answered at the time of writing.
Minister for Equality Edward Zammit Lewis also remained silent. Parliamentary Secretary for Equality Rosianne Cutajar condemned the attacks on Metsola, calling them “disgusting”. She said that although she “agreed on almost nothing” with Metsola, such namecalling was unacceptable. This jars with Cutajar’s own namecalling of Caruana Galizia and her family even after the journalist was murdered, and for which Cutajar has never apologised.
The public response to Azzopardi’s post was an onslaught of criticism, with individuals from both sides of the political spectrum condemning his words and highlighting the point that his attacks tend to target women.
In a strong response on social media, Metsola said she would not be intimidated by Azzopardi. She said she wanted to show aspiring politicians that politics was not what Azzopardi portrayed it to be, and they should not be discouraged by Azzopardi’s actions.
It was not the first attack of its kind by Azzopardi. When he was still artistic director of V18, he had called an activist protesting against former prime minister Joseph Muscat a “sorry bitch”, after which he forced to apologise.
A few days ago, he launched a similar attack on Repubblika President Vicki Ann Cremona, calling her a traitor and calling on university students to boycott her and not sign up for her course.
Azzopardi was blocked from Facebook for 24 hours after that post. He was then back with a vengeance.
MEP David Casa called on Herrera to halt funding to Azzopardi’s company and to condemn the attacks.
“Such disgusting insults have no place in any context…It’s interesting how the former ‘artistic’ director of Valletta 2018 is intimidated by women who are vocal and who believe in what they do,” Casa said.
Culture Minister condemns hate speech, but distances himself from responsibility to denounce Azzopardi
Replying to questions by The Shift, Minister for Culture and Arts Jose Herrera condemned hate speech in general but distanced himself from the responsibility of having to specifically denounce Azzopardi’s language.
“I cannot tolerate any comments or criticism made in a manner which instigates hate, irrespective of who, when, how and where such statements are made although being a firm advocate for the basic principle of freedom of expression,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.
Herrera distanced himself from the responsibility of having to condemn Azzopardi’s comments by emphasising that Azzopardi does not have an executive position in the Ministry, “apart from a cooperative agreement with Teatru Manoel which is managed by the established Board of Directors and its executives”.