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Malaysia clamps down on film-making with TikTok in the fray

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Anyone producing films for public viewing in Malaysia including videos shared on social media sites TikTok and Instagram will require a state-issued licence under a rarely-enforced law that's suddenly taken on new relevance.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Anyone producing films for public viewing in Malaysia including videos shared on social media sites TikTok and Instagram will require a state-issued licence under a rarely-enforced law that's suddenly taken on new relevance.

The move, confirmed in parliament on Thursday,has drawn criticism from civil rights groups and the public over concerns the new government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been eroding freedom of speech since it came to power in March.

"We encourage everyone, big or small, old or young, individual or organisations to produce films as long as they are in accordance with the law," said Multimedia and Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in response to a question on whether the law applied to TikTok and Instagram users. "If there are complaints, we will take action according to the law and the case."

Malaysia's MPs were seeking clarification on filming laws after Mr Saifuddin said Sunday he would check whether Al Jazeera's documentary on Malaysia's alleged mistreatment of migrants, Locked Up In Malaysia's Lockdown, was licensed by the National Film Development Corporation. Al Jazeera's crew were separately questioned by the police under the Sedition Act on July 10.

Al Jazeera isn't the only media organisation that's run afoul of Malaysian law in recent months. Malaysia's judiciary initiated contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief in June, over comments that readers posted on the local news site. That same month, police questioned the editor-in-chief of another news site, CodeBlue, for reporting on findings of a 2016 hospital fire.

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Malaysia's clampdown on media comes against the backdrop of similar moves by other governments in the region. The Philippines closed its largest broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. on July 10 when the parliament failed to renew its franchise, while Maria Ressa, a journalist who runs the newssite Rappler, is facing several legal challenges, including a libel conviction she's vowed to fight and tax evasion charges she denies.

Mr Saifuddin's answer in Parliament left social media users questioning its ramifications. Those wishing to apply for the licence must own a private limited company with a paid-up capital of at least RM50,000 (S$16,264), according to the National Film Development Corporation's website.

"So do I need to apply licence for filming now for my IGTV and TikTok? The minister didn't say no," tweeted lawmaker Wong Shu Qi. "The grey area allows authority to manipulate and oppress whoever voices out against authority.'

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