Satire, must not be criminalised for as long as it does not incite hate and violence. It is a legitimate part of the political landscape in a democracy, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Satire probes into areas of life that seek the attention of the general public, often regarding issues of political and social import that many dare not touch or are unaware of.
It humorously addresses so-called taboo subjects and attempts to help right the wrongs in society, especially in times of crisis.
The social and political concerns that deeply trouble satirists often prompt them to speak truth to power.
Given that it tries to prick the conscience of the people, satire as a form of expression, therefore, becomes a yardstick of democracy. The space available in society for satire to manoeuvre and grow indicates the extent to which the powers that be are able or willing to accept criticism and cynicism.
That is why it is ominous that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) recently indicated its intention to clamp down on parody and satirical social media accounts and, at the same time, encouraged individuals and groups to act against these social media platforms if they are considered to have vilified them.
To make a police report over satire that you disagree with or worse, if you do not understand it, is an indicator of your maturity or lack thereof. In a thriving democracy, to do so would invite scorn and even laughter.
Such a move by the MCMC is clearly worrying to Malaysians, particularly satirists and cartoonists, such as Zunar whose prickly criticism is perceived to be unsuitable, if not dangerous, to society (read: the powers that be). It contracts the democratic space for public expression.
Satire, especially those professionally done or well crafted, must not be criminalised as long as it does not incite hate and violence. It is, to be sure, a legitimate part of the political landscape in a democracy.
Good satire prompts us to laugh at human failings, ridicules our self-importance and highlights injustices and scandals.
That is why public figures, particularly politicians who are arrogant, dictatorial, pompous, flamboyant, incompetent or scandalous, make good material for satirists, cartoonists and comedians. As public figures in a democracy, they inadvertently become fair game.
Donald Trump, aka Potus (President of the United States), for example, not only has become a favourite subject among newspaper cartoonists, but also an overnight sensation on the Saturday Night Live show with actor Alec Baldwin impersonating Trump.
Similarly, Malaysian politicians with certain idiosyncrasies and baggage make good copy for the Zunars, Jason Leongs and Alan Pereiras of this world.
Laughter, remarked American writer-humourist Mark Twain, is one effective weapon that the human race has. And satire does two things well – it makes us laugh and makes us uncomfortable.
It is, thus, understandable why certain public figures, particularly insecure politicians, are edgy about satire and parody. They are at their weakest when they are laughed at and shorn of the contrived adulation they expect and treasure in a given moment.
Satire-unfriendly ruling politicians are obviously a bane to satirists. The expected sentiment of the latter reminds us of what the Irish poet-playwright Oscar Wilde once said: some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.