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Zunar: M’sian satirists play it safe

 | June 8, 2012

Malaysia media laws 'allow' political cartoonists who prefer to attack the weak, claims controversial sketch artist Zunar.


KUALA LUMPUR: Most Malaysian political cartoonists prefer to “play it safe” when it comes to criticising those in positions of power.

In fact, according to Zulkiflee Anwar Haque (better known as Zunar), many of them preferred to attack those who were “weak” and not able to defend themselves.

“Some people like to attack the weak, so they play it safe. They go after [Opposition Leader] Anwar Ibrahim and [DAP secretary-general] Lim Guan Eng.

“[It is] safe to criticise these people, because they don’t have [the power of the] police (behind them).

“Some will attack [US President Barack] Obama, but they won’t attack (Prime Minister) Najib (Tun Razak),” he told FMT in an interview at his office.

Zunar said that political cartoonists in Europe, the United States and even in the Arabic (after the Arab Spring) regions were more brazen and critical of their governments.

But this, he said, is not the case in Malaysia.

“The role of a political cartoonist is to criticise the government of the day. This is [their] philosophy all over the world,” he said.

He added that Malaysia’s control over the media stopped him from attacking the opposition, whom he claimed, did not get the same coverage as government figures.

“I can attack Anwar if he is given fair treatment in the media. [But] if I attack Anwar, will he be given a chance to defend himself?”

“They [the government] know that Anwar does not have a chance to defend himself… They will just use my cartoon, and will not let Anwar [respond]. Definitely!” he said.

Zunar said in Malaysia it was easier and less threatening to lampoon the powerless.

“It is easy to attack those who don’t have power. That’s why in Malaysia, cartoonists and writers choose that. They [not in the government] don’t have power or the media.

“But if you’re a real political cartoonist, you go [after] the most powerful ones. You take the risk and the risk is very high,” he said

‘If elected, Pakatan will need time’

Known for his sharp attacks on the government, Zunar is no stranger to controversy.

In June 2010, three of his cartoon books, consisting of works critical of the ruling government, were banned by the Home Ministry.

Later in September that year, police raided his office and arrested him under the Sedition Act hours before he could launch “Cartoon-O-Phobia”.

Last June, the KL High Court rejected his suit to challenge the government’s ban on his three books.

“In Malaysia, some people say it is not our culture to do that… because it criticises the government. If you attack the opposition, that’s okay.”

“But if you criticise the government, they use the excuse of this is not our culture. Even for debates, the prime minister says it is not our culture. It is an excuse,” he said.

Asked if he would attack a newly-elected Pakatan Rakyat federal government with the same frequency, Zunar said no.

He claimed that a non-BN government needed to be given some leeway to “rebuild the nation”.

“If the new government takes over from one party that has ruled Malaysia for 55 years, what happens? It’s a mounting task and a challenge [to take care of].”

“When we change the government, I will be among the ones who will help the new government to rebuild the nation.”

“I will give some ample time. It’s very subjective,” he said, adding that the focus was not on BN, but rather the system.

Also read:

EC ban won’t stop me, says Zunar


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