Lawyers for Liberty refers to Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil’s recent statement that the trailer for local horror film Pulau is not suitable for public viewing.
The minister’s comment follows the uproar among narrow conservative segments decrying the movie’s supposed lewd or excessive scenes in the movie’s trailer.
If we were to look at the trailer for Pulau rationally and objectively, nothing contained in it was any more ‘obscene’ than the numerous other movies from Hollywood that are cleared for viewing in Malaysia. In fact, it is difficult to understand what all the fuss is about in the Pulau trailer.
Hence, it should not have been necessary for any government intervention, especially if the trailer simply depicts scenes from the movie, which has already been cleared for screening.
Yet, in a move to pander to critics, Fahmi deems it necessary to intervene. This led to the movie trailer being pulled pending another version from the producers.
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This is no innocuous act as the very action of the minister exerting his influence on the movie producers is an act of excessive, oppressive and unreasonable censorship.
Art or creative work in any form and medium is protected under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution and cannot simply be curtailed by a minister trying to score political points from a certain conservative crowd.
Censorship of art or film based on the extreme views of certain groups is more dangerous than it seems, as it could eventually lead to historical and cultural erasure.
One recalls the ban on the Malay traditional dance of Mak Yong for its pre-Islamic roots, ignoring its cultural significance to Malay society.
Recent history has also shown how it can be used against political detractors commenting on public issues such as the numerous criminal actions faced by artists like Fahmi Reza.
By entertaining a small conservative segment, the government is treading on a dangerous path that will effectively restrict our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.
It is inevitable for art and film to be provoking, and it must not be restricted simply because of knee-jerk reactions from some members of the public. That is the point of Article 10(1)(a), that even unpopular or minority productions are able to be expressed on the public platform.
Fahmi, who himself has dabbled professionally in the arts scene, should have known this better than anyone.
It is hypocritical for the government to sing praises for Malaysian artistes succeeding abroad, such as the recent praise given by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to Michelle Yeoh on her Golden Globe win, yet clamp down on local artistes here for their creative endeavours.
It is time to put the matter to rest; film producers should be free to express themselves in films without nannying intervention from the government.
We urge the government to not bully local film producers as has been done in the case of Pulau or impose excessive and unreasonable restriction upon local artistes simply to pander for votes from conservative segments.
The right to freedom of expression must be put above protecting the paper-thin sensibilities of some segments of the public.
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty