KUALA LUMPUR, 7 Oct 2008: NTV7 is hoping to meet the Film Censorship Board this week to seek clarification over the banning of an Edisi Siasat Mandarin episode.
At the same time, three newspapers that submitted their appeals after being issued show-cause letters by the Home Ministry on 12 Sept have yet to hear what the ministry has decided.
NTV7 executive producer for news and current affairs Tan Boon Kooi said the station wants to know why an Edisi Siasat Mandarin episode, titled The Power of Civil Society, was axed. The programme was meant to air on 4 Oct.
Edisi Siasat Mandarin is a popular Chinese-language weekly documentary.
When contacted, Tan declined further comment, saying only that the station was waiting for the officer in charge to return from the Aidilfitri break to appeal its case against the ban.
According to a 1 Oct Merdeka Review exclusive, the authorities censored the programme on grounds that it would “instigate residents to use demonstrations as a way to fight for their interests.”
The banned episode features an interview with Bandar Mahkota Cheras Open Access Road Committee chairperson Tan Boon Wah, detailing civil action by residents in opposing a road barrier. The documentary provided, for context, images of the 2007 Bersih rally and demonstrations against the fuel price hike, and included footage of police dispersing protesters.
Joshua Wong, Edisi Siasat Mandarin senior producer, explained to The Nut Graph that the last of these visuals was one of the reasons cited for the programme’s banning. “We were told that this would portray a negative image of the police,” Wong said.
This is the second time in a month that an Edisi Siasat Mandarin programme has been killed by the authorities. In mid-September, an episode titled Where is the End to Controversial Conversion Cases? was banned because it was deemed sensitive, with the potential of creating “tensions between different religious and ethnic groups.”
Contact between officials and producers are rare. TV stations have to pass footage of pre-recorded TV programmes to the Film Censorship Board officer attached to the station for approval. The board, under the Home Ministry, is empowered to can material deemed contentious.
Wong said Edisi Siasat Mandarin journalists are open to co-operating with the authorities. He cited a recent episode about illegal immigrants in Sabah where the programme’s writers removed criticisms of the federal government as per the board’s recommendations.
“We always try to have balanced reporting,” Wong said. “Our aim is not to sensationalise.”
Wong said the board’s recent decision was surprising, adding that the offending footage in The Power of Civil Society had been used before in daily news reports.
TV producers say part of the problem lies in the board’s unclear guidelines and its lack of transparency.
The case of the three papers
When contacted, the ministry’s Publications and Quranic Texts Control Division secretary Che Din Yusoh said that no decision had been reached on the three publications that received show-cause letters earlier.
“These cases are still under study,” he said, before hanging up abruptly.
Sin Chew Daily, theSun and Suara Keadilan were asked to explain themselves for allegedly breaching guidelines under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) related to their publishing permits.
theSun acting editor-in-chief Chong Cheng Hai told The Nut Graph that the letter his paper received was very general. “It just said that, of late, we have been publishing news not based on fact… manipulating the news, that sort of thing,” Chong said.
He said the English daily’s reply, which affirmed the paper’s adherence to journalistic standards, was equally vague, out of necessity. “If there are no specifics,” Chong said, “how can you defend yourself?”
Chong added that theSun had not heard from the ministry even though the paper had replied within the seven-day deadline.
“In our experience, there is no further correspondence if the ministry is satisfied,” Chong said, adding that silence could mean that the authorities were happy with the paper’s response. “No news is good news.”
Sin Chew Daily editor-in-chief Pook Ah Lek was reluctant to comment, saying: “To us, the matter is over.”
Suara Keadilan group editor Zulkiflee Anwar Haq was also not troubled by the ministry’s silence. “The worse that the minister can do is remove our licence, which, actually, any editor will worry about,” he said.
However, he said the Party Keadilan Rakyat mouthpiece had been publishing without a licence prior to receiving a permit in March 2008.
The show-cause letter issued to Suara Keadilan took the party organ to task for erroneously reporting on Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan’s health.
Zulkiflee said the Malay-language publication had apologised.
Under the PPPA, print publications need a publishing permit from the ministry. They are required to renew these permits annually. The law allows the minister to revoke or suspend these permits without judicial review.
In the 1987 Operation Lallang government crackdown, Sin Chew Daily (then known as Sin Chew Jit Poh), The Star and Malay-language paper Watan had their permits suspended.