Malaysia was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn on Friday after Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah sparked a furor over his announcement that all video production, including those on social media, must be licensed amid a row with news broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Saifuddin created confusion Thursday after saying in parliament that all film and video production, including content produced by media groups and social media users, must comply with the country’s 1981 Film Act that requires licensing.
Saifuddin quoted the FINAS Act and said, “No one can participate in any film production, distribution or broadcast activities or any combination of these activities unless a license has been issued authorizing the person to do so.”
The FINAS ACT defines ’film’ as 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.
• The FINAS Act says that film producers are required to apply for a Film Production Licence and a Film Shooting Certificate and does not make a distinction related to content distribution and whether it is created for traditional media, or uploaded to social media.
• Guidelines on the FINAS website say that applicants have to be registered as owners of a private limited company with a paid-up capital of approximately $12,000 USD (minimum).
After making his statements, other politicians noted that if Saifuddin’s interpretation was accepted, then the government would have to take action against every citizen who has ever posted to a social media site, such as TikTok or YouTube and that it would force hundreds of thousands of Malaysian’s to apply for government licenses.
It’s estimated that over 80% of Malaysia’s 32 million people are social media users and many Malaysians and opposition lawmakers slammed Saifuddin’s announcement as affecting videos produced on social media.
Saifuddin said that social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube did not exist when the FINAS Act was passed in 1981 and said the Act needed to be updated. Saifuddin said, “I explained in a press conference in my 100-day report card on June 20 that the Ministry is assessing all the laws that come under it. We are open to suggestions to improve all these laws and not just the ones debated in Parliament to be relevant with the times.“
A day after making his controversial remarks, Saifuddin said in a press conference that “the government of Malaysia stresses that it stands by the principle of media independence and individual freedom on social media. Social media users are free to use platforms such as Tik Tok, YouTube and others to produce and upload videos without the need to apply for a license or worry that they will be charged.”
However, Saifuddin’s remarks did not clarify whether media organizations would still need to apply for licenses to produce news documentaries or online content.
The Centre for Independent Journalism has said the Malaysia government should counter unfavorable media reports with facts, instead of using a police investigation and licensing requirement to retaliate against broadcasters and that the government should not take actions which effect free speech or the ability of brands, companies and individuals to create and share their content across social media channels.