With the new government in place, we all hope that Malaysia will be moving towards a more progressive and better future. Freedom Film Network (FFN), a group of social filmmakers and human rights activists are calling to Pakatan Harapan to encourage an enabling environment where independent filmmaking can flourish in line with Article 10(a) of the Federal Constitution – the right to freedom of speech and expression.
FFN is a non-profit establishment to support and develop social documentary filmmaking within the context of freedom of expression and the values contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Malaysia. Among other activities, FFN are also running Malaysia’s leading annual human-rights film-festival FreedomFilmFest, which will take place this year from 29th September – 7th October 2018 at PJ Live Arts Petaling Jaya. Save the date!
The network is calling in particular the newly appointed Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Gobind Singh Deo to bring progression into the rights for freedom of speech here in Malaysia.
They are urging the government to assure the Malaysian public that films dealing with human rights issues or matters of public interest will be free from politically-motivated censorship. Instead of censoring content, the government should support and give recognition to non-commercial films and filmmakers highlighting important topics.
FNN have a strong belief that filmmaking should not be looked upon as only an industry for its entertainment and commercial value. Social filmmaking should be celebrated for its crucial role in nation building, asking critical questions and providing alternative perspectives to Malaysians. All points of view should equally have a chance to be heard.
It is already encouraging through the recent announcements from members of parliament that restrictive laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 are currently under review. These legislations were all regularly invoked by the previous government to stifle opinion and expression, the right to information, and were used to target human rights defenders, media personnel, artists and political opponents.
(Source: No Fire Zone)
But as filmmakers, they have been particularly concerned by the Film Censorship Act (FCA) 2002, which has been a major legal hindrance to their work to promote human rights education through film. The need for the review or repeal of the FCA has repeatedly been highlighted by Malaysian lawmakers, human rights groups and UN Special Rapporteurs as essential to safeguard freedom of expression in Malaysia. Further to this, FFN has since submitted a legal brief on the FCA to the Institutional Reform Committee. They believe it should be prioritised for repeal during the first parliamentary session.
What has pushed FFN to submit their legal brief on the FCA was the arbitrarily use of it against former Pusat KOMAS staff member and human rights activist Lena Hendry. She was charged in 2013 under Section 6(1) of the Act for screening the human rights documentary “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” by the award-winning filmmaker Callum Macrae. On 22nd March 2017, Lena was sentenced by the Kuala Lumpur Magistrates Court to pay a fine of RM10,000 or spend a year in jail. Long story short, she paid the fine.
The prosecution of Lena Hendry under the FCA for showing a film regarding the civil war in Sri Lanka undermines the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. FFN are also calling on the relevant authorities to expunge Hendry’s criminal record as the charges against her were politically motivated in nature, likewise, that any other politically motivated charges against filmmakers, artists or media personnel across the nation should be dropped.
Finally, FFN have also stated that they are hoping for the de-politicisation of film regulating bodies such as Lembaga Penapisan Filem and FINAS, who should be made independent and transparent in all of their dealings.
What other changes are you hoping to see within Malaysia? Let us know in the comments.