The Foreign Correspondentsí Club of Malaysia (FCCM) notes a July 19 Bernama report titled ìKKMM checking whether Al Jazeera documentary received go ahead from FINAS - Saifuddinî (Link: https://www.bernama.com/en/news.php?id=1862178).
The article cites Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah as saying the ìcompany or production team involved needed to get permission from FINAS as it was a requirement for the production of films and documentaries in the countryî.
The minister added that the Information Department would also be checking to see if Al-Jazeera had met accreditation conditions in shooting its documentary.
Following that, the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) said initial checks found Al-Jazeera did not have a Film Production Licence and that it would be cooperating with police investigations under the National FIlm Development Corporation Act into the alleged offence of "carrying out filming activities, that is the activity of producing a documentary film without a valid licence from FINAS".
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.
We are unaware of any requirement to obtain permission from FINAS 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.
Various news documentaries have been produced by and aired on television channels both local - including state media - and foreign, without this issue ever cropping up before. 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.
The FCCM has written to the minister to clarify if members of the media 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 Datuk 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".