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Don’t snip dramas of Datuks with mistresses, bribes

A work of fiction should not need ministerial approval to depict dishonest VIPs


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The Ministry of Communications and Multimedia gave an assurance recently that it would not ban television dramas that depict Datuks as dishonourable people who indulge in extramarital affairs and bribery or have multiple wives.

To impose a ban on such televised aspects of social life would obviously mean downright censorship and a violation of media freedom in a democracy.

Minister Annuar Musa announced that the creative industry needs freedom to operate within the confines of the ministry’s guidelines and national values.

However, this is not enough of an incentive, as creative people would still be subjected to certain rules that restrict the creativity and imagination of writers and other such people.

From a different perspective, some people with honorifics would still have affairs or grease the hands of others in real life, irrespective of whether Annuar decides to ban or not ban such features of social life on television.

Denying certain elements of social reality on television would not make the unpleasant truth go away. You only sweep them under the proverbial carpet, which can be deceiving.

Television dramas, particularly about crimes such as corruption and embezzlement, have the potential to alert viewers about the gravity of these social ills that deserve our collective concern, condemnation and punishment.

To be sure, there is enough television material out there to enthral viewers for a long time.

Take, for example, the shenanigans of certain high-profile politicians who exploit race and religion merely to serve their vested interests. The intricate strategies employed to achieve their dark objectives can be as instructive as it is entertaining to viewers. 

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Certain MPs’ flamboyant lifestyles, which are not reflective of their official incomes, would also make good television material.

Indeed, many works of fiction are based on real life or some elements of it, and this can function as an instrument of social criticism. Apart from television dramas, they may also take the form of novels and short stories.

It is when the fiction comes too close to the truth in social life or expresses an “unauthorised” version of truth that it gets slammed with government censorship.

Or the fiction gets banned if it strives to challenge the conventional or the status quo. This is because a creative work demands thinking out of the box, whereas censorship would only blunt the creative edge.

Award-winning creative works may sometimes push the envelope at the risk of incurring the wrath of an insecure regime. Certain works of our creative people have won awards in foreign competitions – without being subjected to our censors’ snip.

Depicting people with honorifics on TV as dishonest VIPs shouldn’t even be seen as a task that requires pushing the envelope.

This is because, as intimated above, there are so-called honourable people who are indeed deceitful in real life like anybody else, especially if they commit serious offences such as financial mismanagement and corruption. There should not even be a need to get a ministerial nod before a work of fiction can depict such dishonest VIPs. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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