The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) today came to news agency Al Jazeera’s defence after National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) said the latter did not procure a licence to produce its documentary.
In a statement, the group said it was unaware of any requirement to obtain permission from authorities for a news video production.
“Whether it is termed a documentary or otherwise, such material broadcast on news channels have not previously needed any clearance from Finas, be they for foreign or local news agencies,” FCCM said.
On Monday, Finas said it had carried out an investigation on Al Jazeera International (M) Sdn Bhd regarding the production of the documentary on the mistreatment of migrants here, and found that the company does not hold the necessary licence to film or air its documentary.
FCCM added that various news documentaries have been produced and aired on television channels by both local, including state broadcasters, and foreign, without this issue ever cropping up before.
“[The fact] that the matter has now escalated into criminal investigations is alarming given the wide swathe of news workers that have made video productions in the past,” it said.
“While we respect the laws of the land and the discretion of the authorities to investigate any alleged breaches, we are concerned with this development given that media in Malaysia has been allowed to operate and perform coverage of events within the bounds of accreditation set by the Information Department and the law.”
Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah reportedly said his ministry will check if Al Jazeera had obtained a licence from Finas to produce the documentary before it started production, saying that a lack of licence would be considered an offence as permission from Finas is needed before films and documentaries can be produced in Malaysia.
Saifuddin was reported saying that the Information Department will cancel Al Jazeera’s media accreditation if it was found to have violated such conditions, noting that the crew would not be free to go anywhere without the media cards issued by the department.
The FCCM said it has since written to the minister to clarify if press members and employees of the foreign or any press corps are now bound by rules and regulations that apply to film and documentary makers, as such an action would have far-reaching consequences.
“We have also expressed our willingness to engage in dialogue over this and other matters concerning the press that have become matters of widespread public interest of late.
“We hope the government, as expressed by Saifuddin in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day in May, continues to believe that it is our duty to uphold freedom for the press to do their job well while holding on to the principles and ethics of journalism,” FCCM said.
Malay Mail’s check of the Act shows Section 22(1) as stating that no person shall engage in any activities of production, distribution or exhibition of films or any combination of these activities without a licence authorising the person to carry out such activities.
Under Section 25 of the same Act, it is stated that any person who contravenes any provisions of the part of the law — which includes Section 22(1) — is guilty of an offence.
The same Section 25 provides for a punishment of a maximum fine of RM50,000 or a maximum jail term of two years or both if a person is convicted of an offence under the Act, with a maximum daily fine of RM10,000 if the offence is a continuing offence.
Among other things, Finas’ functions under the Act include the development of the film industry, and the regulation and control of the production, distribution and exhibition of films in Malaysia and to issue licences for such purposes. – MMO