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Malta – Maltese ban on advertising restricts free speech

By - 20 March 2013

Malta’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the ban on gaming advertising is in violation of the right to freedom of speech.

Justice Camilleri ruled that for as long as state licensed casinos were accessible to the Maltese public it was not justifiable to ban advertising them as it was a restriction on freedom of expression. He also said they were merely ‘a cosmetic gesture’ due to the fact that casinos were readily promoted in places visited by tourists and on that advertisement on the internet were still allowed.

The case was brought to light by Lawrence Grech, the former editor of The Sunday Times, who was charged by police ten years ago for publishing an advertisement promoting the Oracle Casino.  He lodged an appeal against the Attorney General, the Police Commissioner, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, prompting this latest ruling by Justice Gino Camilleri.

The Criminal Appeals Court also fined Maltese newspaper MaltaToday €7,000 four years ago for running a story in its commercial section on the Dragonara Casino’s restaurant that made a brief reference to the existence of slot machines at the Dragonara.

The Attorney General had appealed the original verdict by the magistrates’ court, which had acquitted editor Saviour Balzan of promoting gambling, but the Appeals Court later overturned that ruling.

Anyone in breach of these advertising laws had faced a maximum of two years in prison along with a €232,000 fine.

Mr. Balzan argued that MaltaToday wasn’t paid a penny for what in effect was a restaurant review claiming that the reference to the slots was ‘inconsequential.’

Mr. Grech meanwhile claimed the publication in his paper was not an advertisement but a free article published in the social section about an offer by Go Mobile. He highlighted that publications distributed on Maltese airline

Air Malta quite often contained advertisements promoting Malta’s casinos.

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