Whether it is to access alternative views or just simply to have fun reading cartoons or wearing funny T-shirts, our right to make decisions on what to read and what to wear has been eroded, writes Soon Chuan Yean.
I have a feeling that the Home Affairs Ministry, in particular the ministry’s Panel for Evaluating Printing and Publications Permit Applications (Panel 13), must have had a hectic schedule lately. Its officers must have expended considerable energy, travelling, searching, and writing (show-cause) letters to evaluate the movement of media in Malaysia.
Opposition newspapers, namely the PKR’s Suara Keadilan, Pas’ Harakah, and the DAP’s Rocket, are now facing the possibility of suspension. Suara Keadilan had been suspended when Panel 13 was not satisfied with the explanation given by the publication in response to the ministry’s three show-cause letters. The show–cause letters demanded that the paper explain its publication of a ‘Felda bankrupt’ piece, which led to a suit by Felda on the grounds of ‘blatant lies’ (Malaysiakini, June 25, 2010) as well as their handing over of a memorandum protesting the allegations made and the burning of copies of the publication by a group of some 100 people in front of the Suara Keadilan office. (Malaysiakini, June 30, 2010)
In July, Harakah and Rocket were given show-cause letters for their failure to submit their renewal applications to the Ministry. Pas’ permit expired on 7 July, but it continued to publish its 12-15 July edition, while the Rocket’s English version expired in June (the Malay and Chinese versions expired in September and November last year respectively).
Surprisingly nothing has happened to Utusan Malaysia, which published an article entitled “Anwar alleged to have paid CNN”. The daily has not been questioned by the Ministry, even though CNN has described the report as “fabricated” (Malaysiakini, 13 July 2010)
More daunting is that the scope of restrictions on the media or on freedom of expression has reached not only the print media but garments – yes, you read that right, garments – as well. In June 2008, the ministry confiscated 83 T-shirts in Kuala Lumpur owned by Patrick Saw for containing messages that it felt had ‘communist’ elements. Reports of the raid mentioned that the T-shirts confiscated were those bearing pop images of only one Bruce Lee and Mickey Maos’ (promoting communism?). But Saw was also selling T-shirts bearing other messages such as V K Lingam’s words and satirical messages on defection. (Merdeka Review, 8 June 2010)
Similarly, early this year, cartoonist Zunar’s ‘1FunnyMalaysia’ book was seized by the Home Ministry. This action was followed by the banning of two other books, namely ‘Perak Darul Kartun’ and ‘Isu Dalam Kartun’ in late-June 2010 under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984 on the grounds that it ‘could pose a threat to public order, morality, security’. The Act provides for penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment or fines of up to RM20,000 or both for printing, producing, selling, distributing or even possessing prohibited material or contents (Malaysiakini, 24 June). This means that not only the printers, but also the vendors and readers might be charged under the Act. Note that these books are not books about conspiracy theories or exposés of corruption cases involving the President/Prime Minister. Neither were they books instigating religious and ethnic sentiments. These were merely hilarious laugh-of-the-day compilations of cartoons by Zunar!
The way the Ministry defines ‘media’ and ‘proper messages’ has reached a stage where their control has gone beyond the political contest between the Pakatan and the BN but into our everyday lives, such as the right to access humour. Whether it is to access information of alternative views or just simply to have fun reading cartoon or wearing funny T-shirts or T-shirts with a message, our right to make decisions on what to read and what to wear has been eroded. Where else are they going to control, our perceptions? Oh yes, they have done that too – 1Malaysia.
Soon Chuan Yean is an Aliran exco member.
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