April 18, 2021

Freedom to exercise our intellectual judgment

3 min read

I READ with quiet, roiling disappointment that Finas (National Film Development Corporation) has suggested censoring Netflix. The statement has now been clarified to suggest regulating Netflix, which is no saving grace because the term “regulating” is merely a more ambiguous connotation – of which the root sense of the word is ultimately “censoring”.

In talking about censorship, let’s look for a moment at the Communi-cations and Multimedia Act, which in Section 3(3) clearly states that “(3) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet.” This shows that TV and cinema censorship vastly differs from Netflix censorship, because we access Netflix via the Internet.

Let’s also not forget that piracy is a huge business in Malaysia. A lot of us got “unfiltered content” from those badly copied CDs, VCDs and DVDs before the advent of Netflix in Malaysia (and some of us still do). Perhaps that would be the foremost concern as opposed to censoring subscribed online content (which is a minefield compared to television and cinema).

Malaysians have long had a fraught relationship with censorship and media. We all remember the (bad) old days when chunks of a film or TV series would be slashed off (for a variety of reasons: violence, cultural insensitivity, crude language, and the list goes on). We all remember not understanding precisely what was going on in the story, having to mostly guess based on the facial reactions of the actors.

Someone in a dingy room somewhere had the power to filter what we watched based on his or her judgement – leaving us with no judgement call of our own – insulting our ability as grown adults. I do not miss those days, and I doubt anyone else does.

As for the concern of unfiltered content getting to children, there is a simple option on Netflix to filter content for children. The parent has the role of monitoring their child, the government need not be a part of this family dynamic.

Locally, I feel that film production generally, whether for cinema of TV screens, has made great strides since streaming began in Malaysia. Streaming services highlight local and international content, educating those of us who were unknowing of good local films in the days of yore. We have the autonomy to choose what to watch in the way the director and/or cinematographer intended us to see it.

Malaysians have since then (or so I would think) developed a taste for movies and/or shows that are shown to us in all their glory (with no interference from any governmental bodies). I would think that all of us have the sense of clarity to decide for ourselves what is suitable for viewing and what is not. It is entertainment after all. One would think that this is one area that an external party need not delve into.

We should be given the freedom to choose – to exercise our intellectual judgement. To know for ourselves what we may watch. Besides, to regulate and/or censor content is merely makes it more alluring – it does the very opposite of what it supposes to do.

Besides, there is always the option of not subscribing to Netflix if one is disturbed by its content (for the very few who are). As for me, I will be getting back to all the previously banned Monty Python movies (as well as the original series, of course).