THE Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply concerned by the censorship environment which stunts Malaysia’s creative economy as well as the recent legal actions against the producer Tan Meng Kheng and director Khairi Anwar Jailani of the 2021 film “Mentega Terbang”.
However, the leave granted by the High Court today to proceed with the judicial review to challenge the government ban on the film brings hope that some of the concerns raised by CIJ may be allayed, according to its executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu.
“The decision to ban the film and to charge Tan and Khairi under Section 298 of the Penal Code raises significant questions about the state of artistic freedom and free expression in Malaysia,” Wathshlah hit out in a media statement.
“Artistic expression, including filmmaking, plays a crucial role in fostering a vibrant and diverse society that can participate in healthy discourse on various topics as films – both watching and making them – are an integral part of expressing one’s identity.
“Imposing legal sanctions on creative individuals not only stifles their voices but also inhibits the democratic spirit of a nation as it impedes their ability to speak on societal concerns and one’s own lived experiences.”
Wathshlah thus accused the government of forcing artists in Malaysia to live in a culture of fear.
“While we acknowledge the importance of respecting religious sensitivities, it is essential to strike a balance between protecting these sensitivities and safeguarding the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” she argued.
“The imposition of a gag order and the broader issue of film censorship based on religious grounds is also dismaying. The gag order further showcases the government’s arbitrary powers to suppress the freedom of expression of individuals to freely voice their concerns and views even when it affects their livelihoods.”
She thus called on the unity government to re-consider its stance on the charges against Tan and Khairi with further consideration accorded towards lifting of the ban against the film to set a positive precedent for the future of preserving artistic freedom while allowing the public to make informed decisions on what they wish to view without fear of legal and societal backlash.
“We believe that a balanced approach is needed to uphold both the right to freedom of expression and the need to address legitimate concerns about religious sensitivities,” asserted Wathshlah.
“We encourage a transparent, inclusive and critical dialogue between the government, cultural stakeholders, and religious communities to find common ground that respects both creative freedom and religious values.” – Jan 31, 2024