Malaysia’s political opposition on Thursday accused the government of trying to stifle dissent by extending licensing regulations for film and television productions written in 1981 to cover social media posts.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah sparked outrage, and no small amount of derision, by declaring that personal videos shared on platforms like Instagram and even TikTok (the currently controversial Chinese-made service where videos must be kept very short, like a video version of Twitter) should be subjected to the same licensing requirements as professional movie and TV productions.
The communications minister insisted his government encouraged people to create films of all sorts, but “it must be according to the law.”
Among other things, that law requires aspiring video producers to request permission from Malaysia’s regulatory agency at least seven days before they begin filming, which would seem to spell trouble for spontaneous recordings of live incidents, and for people who wish to record timely commentary about current events. Film licenses are also very expensive, costing up to $12,000 in U.S. currency, and the fines for violators are almost as high, plus possible jail time.
Saifuddin said his ministry would “take action according to the law and depending on the case” when it receives complaints about unlicensed videos. Disturbingly, he said this in response to a question about a specific online video that commented on government policies related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Malaysians responded to the impending Communications Ministry edict by flooding the Internet with sarcastic “trolling” videos, impassioned criticism of the regulations, and of course cat videos and pornography:
Just letting you know that I do not have a Finas license to publish this film. Please do not report me to the authorities. pic.twitter.com/sTajctlJFG
— Amirul Ruslan (@amirulruslan) July 23, 2020
Fans of adult-video services had some fun imagining surly Malaysian regulators finding themselves obliged to review a tidal wave of nude clips to decide if they were violating the new licensing requirements.
Opposition politicians were not in a joking mood. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim denounced Saifuddin’s comments as “worrying,” “unreasonable,” and “backwards.”
“It is clear the government wants all parties, be it politicians, or social media users to face action for content that may not fit the government’s view,” Anwar said.
“Will the government take action against all TikTok users? Will the government request every YouTuber to apply for a licence?” asked Wong Shu Qi, another opposition lawmaker.
Saifuddin’s remarks did not make it clear when the extension of film and television regulations to online video might go into effect. In a statement released after the outcry, he said he was merely explaining how the law would currently work if it were interpreted seriously, and his goal was to raise awareness that reforms were necessary for online videos.
“It must be stressed that the PN government has never thought of using the act to stifle individual freedom on social media,” he insisted, referring to the Malaysian ruling party, Perikatan Nasional.