Discuss how censorship of the media is a violation of the freedom of expression and its impact on businesses in Malaysia. Censorship is the resistor of information and ideas distributed within a society, or can be defined as the act of changing a message, including the change of deletion (complete elimination of the message), between the sender and receiver. Censorship is a tool that can be used to accomplish good or evil but must be used carefully and only when truly necessary. Media censorship takes many forms in the way you get your news, while most information is edited at length some information is edited to keep delicate information from the public and this is usually done to protect a person’s privacy and also to protect media outlets from corporate or political fallout. Freedom of expression is the right to express ones ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. An example of freedom of expression is freedom of press.
Freedom of expression is an important human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society and to access information plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society. Censorship is an expanding issue in Malaysia as they want to reach a knowledge based economy which is an economy that uses knowledge to generate tangible and intangible assets and using technology to transform a part of human knowledge to machines. Malaysia having one of the world’s firmest systems of media censorship with about a hundred movies being barred in the past 10 years on the ploy of upholding morality and the internet however remains unconstrained in line with keeping civil liberties and preserving democratic spaces. Article 10 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia states that everyone has a right to freedom of expression but on many occasions people’s right to implement their freedom of expression is restricted and selectively based on the freedom of choice of the government.
The restrictions are justified under the maintaining racial harmony and public order. Professor Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi argued that the constitution offers a rather weak provision for freedom of speech predominantly as a result of adjustments following the May 1969 clashes. The right includes freedom to give opinions and to obtain and convey information and ideas without disturbances by public authority irrespective of borderlines. To exercise freedom, it comes with duties and responsibilities, and may be exposed to formalities, conditions, restriction or penalties set by the law (The Sun, 2005). In the case of Chai Choon Hon v, Ketua Polis Daerah, Kampar and Government of Malaysia (1986), Choon applied for a license to hold solidarity dinner in public space. His application was accepted but stamped with seven restrictions, two he felt were unfair. The speakers should not exceed seven and that no speech to touch on political issues. It was turned down when he sued at that federal court but was granted to go ahead by the supreme-court judge. In this case we see how the government’s power to regulate meetings and event is not absolute. Such right is easily abused especially towards businesses and rival politicians, this comes to show that freedom of assembly remain safeguarded and only restricted when it is absolutely necessary.
Daniel J.Boorstin, who was known as the leading intellectual public position in the nation argued that any sorts of censorship “has no place in a free society.” Hence, media censorship is deemed unlawful or in violation of human rights and should undergo judicial review1. Even the Malaysian Press Institute chairman Datuk Azman Ujang himself claimed, “Media censorship will not really aid the country because Malaysia needs a free press that shows maturity and progress in order to evolve.” Although he rejects complete press freedom due to existing laws and sensitivities of certain areas, “press freedom is essential when the foreign community reflects on our country2.” Exclusion of the media is an extremely ruthless constraint on freedom of expression and information in these boundaries should only be placed where there are obvious safety concerns. An unfortunate example would be when the MIC President, S. Samy Vellu had the authorities charge Awang Selamat under the Sedition Act because of an article “Malays betrayed?” even though open and civil discussions on race and religion are essential in the evolvement of the nation’s ethical boundaries3. Hence, to ban certain views is a grave violation of freedom of expression for the individual and the community.
An appealing argument favoring media censorship however is the security of secrets. For example, in 2008 when Mumbai was attacked by terrorists, media censorship could have been used against news reporters who revealed the
counter-terrorist’s operation clearly because terrorists in their hideout could have been pre-warned of the impending actions of the counter-terrorists. Hence, some information is best unknown. Nevertheless, if a foreign press is producing an unbiased discussion on the leadership of our country and the ruling coalition bans such information from the nation, democracy would be no different from dictatorship. Moreover, if knowledge does not spread, it will lead to intellectual stagnation which would not have brought humanity to its present day. Basically, it is about the balance and authorities need to identify the rationale behind that censorship and censor the media as per that rationale4, not according to the selfish benefits of the ruling authorities. Subsequently, Malaysian officials have ordered bookstores to stop selling ‘Where did I come from?’ by British author Peter Mayle, a sex education book which intends to help parents explain to children topics regarding sex, conception, and birth5.
Children should be acknowledged with such topics to avoid mistakes that could have been made in their future. It is not necessary to ban such books as bookstores nowadays significantly display books that have been banned in the past and it took personal courage and long, hard work to undo that ban which should not exist in the first place. Many older teenagers are knowledgeable about sex beyond the imaginations of their parents and are ravenous to scrutinize serious issues concerning life and to have their ideas taken seriously6. Hence, further knowledge should not be stopped from them. After all, books that have no prospect of school purchase can, and do extend freely to infinite possibilities of the English language.
Nevertheless, readers and audiences are normally unable to choose what to present and what not to present in the media because everything is already out there unconsciously. The only choice they could make is to select what kind of information and ideas they want to obtain. However, in Malaysia, all contents which are deemed as inappropriate or sensitive are subject to censorship from being reported to the society, be it external forced or “self-censorship”. The Malaysian government strictly limits the print media from both legislations i.e. reduce citizens’ freedom of expression and free flow of information. There are very few independent publications among Malaysia’s media due to the restrictions of obtaining a publishing license8. It is much easier for magazine publishers to obtain a license compared to newspaper agencies because most of the magazine topics regard lifestyle issues.
For foreign publications in Malaysia, there is a history of threatening censorship, delaying issues, and sporadically the complete banning of an issue of a magazine. Research showed that there were infrequent attacks on foreign journalists and foreign publications because they have published some supposedly censored news about Malaysia. For example, during the Bersih 3.0 rally when Al-Jazeera stressed that they have not been censored in this manner by any other distribution platform in the world and condemns Malaysia for that9. The Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) is one of the harshest of the media laws in Malaysia. Its statute in section 4(1), 7(1), and 9(1) of the act demonstrates how stern the law is regarding the censorship of the print media of the nation10. This Act required all print media to acquire an annual publishing license despite the home minister’s authority to suspend or revoke publishing permits easily11.
The government has extensive seizure powers over printing presses and publications license. Ong Boon Keong, one case in Penang that shows the PPPA reduce the freedom of expression, Ong Boon Keong the Community leader was accused for breach of the PPPA and the Aiyoh Penang, a bulletin which was published unlicensed. This action has not been taken by the police on pressing charge on Ong till today. Section 3 of the Act gives the Internal Security Minister a legally permit license and also refuse any application for a license. The Internal Security Act 1960 deals with publications which forbid materials that contain substance such as violence, not accordance to the law and causing disruption to the peace and security In Malaysia. Action is allowed to be taken by the minister against all print media where the publishers’ writing has not taken “reasonable measures” to substantiate the truth of the news. Contravention of this Act will causes an RM 2,000 fine and, or up to three years imprisonment.
Nevertheless, numerous international parties including the UN Human Rights Committee as well as a number of constitutional courts globally have declared that, bans in publishing “false news” are deemed to breach the guarantee of freedom of expression. As the European Court of Human Rights mentioned, “Freedom of the press provides the public an ideal means of discovering and forming an opinion of their political leaders’ ideas and attitudes”. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) imposed formal legal obligations on State Parties to abide its term and had elaborated many of the rights including the Article 19 of Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). The right to freedom of expression stated in Article 19 of the ICCPR collateral is closely similar to that in Article 19 of the UDHR as “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression which shall comprise freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds”.
Although Malaysia is an authoritative elaboration of the rights set out in the UDHR, it has no confirm with the ICCPR. Censorship is a growing issue in many countries in the world and has direct effect in businesses. Businessmen today need truthful news or information that is important for their business. However, because of censorship they sometimes could not get the real news and end up with false news. Media censorship forces companies to take many steps to get proper news while the censorship board finds various ways to keep certain information hidden from becoming public. There are some businesses that actually run depending on the media and public. The newspapers and magazines give such information that helps businessmen to promote and run their business home and abroad. If the censorship board attempts to bar news that is relevant to certain businesses, the effects could be unspeakable. Thus, businessmen have to look through foreign news although foreign print media is often censored as well.
The fact that Malaysia’s ruling parties control almost the entire press media including the New Straits Times, Malay Mail, The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh, Guang Ming Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, and China Press, not to mention Tamil newspapers like Malaysia Namban, Tamil Nesan and Makkal Osai12, political parties could always try to hide their news from others parties which may be related to important business information. So, often other businessmen receive fake or incorrect news that hampers business a lot. This is how censorship is affecting Malaysian business, by not letting foreign news agencies and magazines promote their news in Malaysian newspapers or magazines. The journalists in Malaysia always try to cover the whole true story behind any news or story. Sometimes, they have to bear physical harassment and can often sacrifice their lives to cover the real story. But their efforts get wasted for the obstruction of censorship. Businessmen are generally seen early every morning, eager to read the newspapers to get the latest news about the Business world.
Censorship has always created a wall between the truth and lie. Malaysian government has banned many international newspaper agencies from entering into the Malaysian market. Some businesses fully depend on print media and Malaysian businessmen often need global information to cope with faster moving trends and fashions if they are operating their businesses internationally. Censorship causes problems such as businesses being not comprehensive enough of the circumstances of other countries causing logistical inefficiencies because of possible delays due to strike or any other corruptions in a certain country. Expectedly, the Malaysian business industry suffers much loss due to lack of information from the print media. The government has taken a few steps to make its control over the print media as a way to control the political scenario of the country. Subsequently, a safe campaign in 1998 led by Malaysia’s ruling party, Barisan National which enabled its constituent parties to obtain corporate control over the four main Malaysia daily newspapers which are the News Straits Times Group, the Utusan Melayu Group, Star Publications and the Karangkraft Group.
Operation Lalang was implemented on 27 October 1987. Two daily newspapers, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and two weekly newspapers, The Sunday Star and Watan, were shut down for a few months in this operation. Their publishing permits were also suspended temporarily. The Star which was the primary English newspaper that gave news in the Oppositions’ perspective was banned as its action was considered under the Sedition Act and during Operation Lalang, this newspaper was shut down. Most of the employees were being let go and become unemployed and also held behind bars under the Internal Security Act. The Sisters in Islam (SIS), an Islamic institution in Malaysia, was wondering why was the book that consists of research papers assembled by the activists and academics from Southeast Asia and the Middle East being banned in 2005 by the Home Ministry of Malaysia. It becomes a question because the book mainly focused on the trials and tribulations that Muslim women faced in their countries. The book also stresses on the women’s rights and how to avoid injustice.
The newspaper, Suara Keadilan has their permit terminated in June 2010. This is because it was run by the opposition party led by Annuar Ibrahim and according to the Home ministry the news being published in the newspaper were not correct and misleading. All of these actions on the media have negative impacts on their businesses. When these publications were stopped, those of them who advertised their business in these publications were affected. They will lose financially because less people will know about their products. As for the publication house itself, it will have greater loss as it has no production which leads to no sales. This in turn means no income or profit. There will be opportunities given by the government to those who support them. On the other hand, those who promote the oppositions’ views or support their print media will have a hard time in obtaining government assistance for their businesses.
Nevertheless, it is very important to know the government policy and the political trends to succeed in the business world. In conclusion, we find that censorship of the media is a violation of the freedom of expression and has a big impact on businesses in Malaysia. Malaysia being strict and firm on the issue of censorship is a legal constraint which limits and reduces the people’s freedom of expression and free flow of information. While censorship has pros such as preserving secrets of the nation and protecting the citizens of the nation, plagiarism and political motivated propagandas are avoided. Negative effects of censorship hinder ability for citizens to speak out and share their views, and rights to freedom of speech. Freedom of expression is compromised as it takes away the right of citizens’ big businesses inclusive to know and not allowing people to learn about products and therefore business can’t communicate certain information. This causes an increase in costs and financial hardship to companies.
Due to censorship, information received is imperfect and gathering of such information becomes harder. Any type of increase on cost to a business is bad hence having lower profits which means that businesses cannot reach full capability. As Print Media is the common use of communicating information to citizens, having limitation on the information broadcasted could hinder progress to businessmen as most businesses run and depend on print media i.e. Newspaper articles. Media censorship law Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) should be loosened with a decrease in restrictions to allow businesses to be dependent on media to blossom and give equal opportunities of success to all businesses. Article 19 of the UDHR and ICCPR should be implemented to keep justice within the nation and freedom of expression can be exercised more and fewer conflicts can take place in the nation. The government should not control people by censorship as it is a force against globalization and it works against creativity of businesses. In fact, censorship could show a different image to what is really going on which is the abuse of human rights.