Malaysia: Government claims all film needs licence as Al Jazeera attacks increase

The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) announced on July 20 that broadcast network Al Jazeera did not have a valid licence to film a program about migrant workers in Malaysia. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about a rising number of attacks and threats being directed at the respected international broadcaster and its Malaysia-based journalists and calls on authorities to support media independence and freedom of the press in the country.

Finas logo. Credit: Finas

The 101 East current affairs program, Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, was broadcast on July 3 and has ignited controversy for its coverage of the alleged treatment of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. On July 6, Malaysian police initiated an investigation under of the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act. Senior Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, claims the program contains false information. Al Jazeera has refuted the claims and released several statements backing its investigation.

After being contacted by Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, on July 21, Finas then went on to claim the network did not have the necessary licences to film a documentary.

On July 23, the communications minister defended the government’s position, claiming in parliament that it was compulsory for all producers to apply for a Film Production Licence and Film Shooting Certificate (SSP), regardless if they were from a mainstream media outlet or personal media. When questioned if Tik Tok and Instagram TV also qualified as film, the minister said feature films, short films, trailers, advertising “filmlets” and any recording on material of any kind fell under the licencing rule in his view.

Al Jazeera has dismissed the claims and accusations against it as not credible. It said that by the National Film Corporation’s own definition the weekly current affairs show does not fall into the category of a film requiring a licence.

“Unable to contest the integrity of our journalism, we believe the authorities are now attempting this new gambit of claiming we did not have a proper license,” said Al Jazeera English managing director, Giles Trendle.

Malaysia-based Al Jazeera staff were initially questioned by police on July 11. The IFJ has been advised the network’s team members have been subjected to trolling and harassment.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is among those expressing alarm over the probe, saying the move fundamentally undermines press freedom in Malaysia and threatens the country's reputation at an international level.

On July 22, satellite television provider Astro was fined by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for re-airing a 2015 Al Jazeera program on the murder of Mongolian woman in Malaysia.

The IFJ said: “The intimidation being levelled at Al Jazeera and its journalists for simply doing the job of reporting is gravely concerning. The attempts by Finas to pin Al Jazeera under a film licensing claim is highly questionable and should be strongly refuted for the sake of all media and more broadly for freedom of expression in Malaysia.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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