M’sia multimedia minister: Govt never intended to use FINAS Act to restrict individual freedom on social media

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The Government has never intended to wield the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) Act to restrict personal, individual freedom with regards to posting on social media, said Multimedia and Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

In a Facebook post on Thursday evening (23 July), Saifuddin noted — in response to viral reports on the Finas licensing requirement for film producers — that he was “merely elaborating on existing legislation” such as the FINAS Act.

Part of the reports, Saifuddin alleged, “paint an inaccurate picture, which has led to a different interpretation from the answer I had intended”.

“The Act has been previously used by past governments, including BN [Barisan Nasional] and PH [Pakatan Harapan],” he said, adding that at the time when the Act was passed in 1981, social media platforms such as Tik Tok and YouTube did not exist.

“It must be stressed that the PN [Perikatan Nasional] government has never and does not intend to use this Act to curtail individual freedoms on social media, which is a phenomenon that did not exist at the time the legislation was drafted,” he said.

Saifuddin also said that his Ministry is open towards any feedback to improve not only the FINAS Act, but all relevant legislation under the ministry to ensure their relevance in today’s world.

“The Communications and Multimedia Ministry recognises that this Act requires improvement. I have mentioned this in my 100 Days Report Card press conference on 20 June. The Ministry is reevaluating all legislation under its purvey,” he said.

Saifuddin was widely reported by local media as saying that any entity intending to produce films – from mainstream media to individuals on social media – must apply for a licence from Finas.

Responding to a question from Kluang Member of Parliament (MP) Wong Shu Qi in Parliament on Thursday (23 July), Saifuddin said that the application should be made up to seven days before filming commences.

Citing Section 22(1) of the FINAS Act, Saifuddin said that “no one can participate in any film production, distribution or broadcast activities or any combination of these activities unless a licence is issued authorising the person to do so”.

“Film producers are required to apply for a Film Production Licence and a Film Shooting Certificate, whether they are mainstream media agencies or personal media showing the film on social media platform or traditional channels,” he added.

When asked by Wong on what constitutes “film” and if individuals posting video content on social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok will be affected by the requirement, Saifuddin said that “film” covers “recordings on any material, including features and short films, short subject films, documentaries, trailers, and short films for advertisement, for viewing by members of the public”.

Wong’s question followed Saifuddin’s statement that his ministry will look into whether Qatari-based leading news channel Al Jazeera had obtained a licence from Finas for the Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown – a documentary focusing on the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic  prior to producing it.

Al Jazeera English managing director Giles Trendle, however, said on Wednesday that in line with Finas’ definition, its “101 East” weekly current affairs show does not fall into the category of film requiring a licence.

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil told reporters outside Parliament yesterday that Saifuddin should “be more careful with his remarks”, as “the effects of his interpretation may mean that all social media users are now required to acquire a Finas licence”.

“Many will ask whether they will be compelled by the minister’s interpretation of the law whenever they post videos on social media… For MPs who always do Facebook Live, are we now compelled to have a Finas licence?” He questioned.

“The definition of the Act has elements of selective prosecution, where certain parties are affected while others are not,” Fahmi added.

MPs express reservations regarding proposed Finas licensing requirement

In the evening session in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman said in response to Saifuddin’s remarks that such a move will “kill” the livelihood of “content creators” in Malaysia.

The former Minister of Youth and Sports highlighted that such content creators comprise predominantly of young people.

“Just look at how Neelofa, Mat Luthfi, JinnyboyTV grew in Malaysia… It is because of the freedom to produce content without the limitations posed by exorbitant licencing fees,” Syed Saddiq told the House.

“We’ve seen Mr Sofian, who is known as “the Zach King of Malaysia”, with his excellent animation videos and creative content that earned international recognition. How can Mr Sofian remain influential if, with the new pre-requisite, he has to pay capital of RM50,000 for a licence from Finas?”

“This is unfair. It will thwart [the efforts of] creative content developers in Malaysia, the majority of whom are young people,” he stressed.

Approximately 50,000 youths in Malaysia will be affected by the Finas licensing requirement and see a drop in earnings or may even lose their jobs, warned Syed Saddiq.

He urged the Minister to withdraw his statement regarding the requirement and to offer consistency and clarity in relation to the matter.

Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik highlighted the anxieties of educators who have been greatly reliant on online means to conduct their lessons throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as schools were closed during the multiple phases of the Movement Control Order.

“They have had to produce a variety of content and to share such content across public platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. So when the question of the Finas licence arose, they said that this is an impossible and burdensome feat,” the former Education Minister told the House.

“They have to deliver, they have to teach. And if they have to apply for the licence, when will it be approved?” Maszlee questioned, adding: “They are worried that if what the Minister said materialises, difficulties in the learning process will be heightened post-COVID-19.”

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