Restrictive film licensing will curtail media freedom, kill creativity, warn MPs

Former ministers Gobind Singh, Maszlee Malik and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman have asked the PN government not to invoke outdated rules for the modern era.

KUALA LUMPUR: Former communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo today said the Perikatan Nasional government’s “regressive stance” on film and social media could significantly curtail media freedom.

Earlier today, Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told the Dewan Rakyat that all film producers and media agencies, including individual media outlets, must apply for a licence from the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) before filming, stating that this rule also applied to social media platforms.

“It is impractical to expect or require all social media users to comply with Section 21 and 22 (of the Finas Act 1981),” Gobind told FMT.

“Even if those sections include social media, which is arguable, the minister need not take that position.

“He may have the power to exempt any persons or class of persons from the requirements of any of the provisions of the act,” he added.

Gobind said Saifuddin should refer to Section 34A of the Finas Act “carefully” for the provision, adding that he should be realistic and practical in keeping with new technology and the media landscape of today.

Finas started the debate about licences on Monday when it said that satellite news channel Al Jazeera did not have a film production licence, nor did it apply for accreditation to produce its controversial 101 East documentary entitled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, which was broadcast on July 3.

Meanwhile, two independent MPs also raised concerns in the Dewan Rakyat over the requirement for all film producers, including social media users, to apply for a licence, stating it would kill creativity and life-long learning carried out through social media.

Former education minister Maszlee Malik said school teachers and university professors had raised concerns over their YouTube channels created during the movement control order.

“Professors too (are concerned). Many of their students are yet to return to colleges,” he said, adding that the lecturers teach their students through social media.

“Their education will be affected,” the Simpang Renggan MP said.

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (Independent-Muar) added the licensing requirement would kill creativity among youths as they relied on digitalisation to create content and brand.

He said the restriction would see thousands losing their jobs as many might not have the money to pay the licensing fee of RM50,000 under Finas and appealed to Saifuddin to review his announcement this morning.

Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi, meanwhile, said the Finas Act 1981 was outdated as it was enacted during years when filming activities were only confined to the film industry, news agencies and for commercial use.

“However, we are now in an era where everyone can film. Social media users with smartphones upload millions of videos to YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram everyday.

“Some are even earning money, making and sharing videos on social media platforms,” she said in a statement.

“By enforcing this law, the government is basically making video filming an illegal activity in Malaysia.

“Will the government take action against all TikTok users?

“Will the government request every Youtuber to apply for a licence? More importantly, will the government request Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob to apply for a licence before broadcasting live press conference videos?”