The confusion over Finas licensing became clearer after Minister of Communication and Multimedia Saifuddin Abdullah admitted in a statement much later that the law on this matter is outdated. Earlier, Saifuddin Abdullah’s answer in parliament was confusing because he was trying to justify the government’s action in using the law to retaliate against Al-Jazeera.
With subsequent statements from the minister and the cabinet, it is now clearer that the government will not use it on individual users and the law needs to be amended to adapt to our social media era.
I welcome the cabinet’s decision to amend this outdated law that was enacted nearly 40 years ago. However, since the government has already admitted that the law is outdated and needed to be amended, it should also cease from using the same law against Al-Jazeera.
If the content produced by Al-Jazeera is defamatory to Malaysia, the government can take action against the news outlet using laws which deal with defamation. It is just wrong to use technicalities such as filming license to persecute a news agency criticised the government.
The government should respond with facts if what Al Jazeera reported was inaccurate instead of using brute force over technicalities.
Following the Minister’s statement, the chairman of Finas, Zakaria Abdul Hamid further muddled the situation when he said that filming of documentaries will still require Finas license. The problem with such laws in this age of smartphones is immediately obvious: videomaking is no longer limited to professionals. Does the licensing law apply to personal documentaries by social media users, perhaps uploaded to YouTube? Will such users be fined if they fail to comply?
The fact is, both the government and opposition agree that the Finas Act 1981 is outdated. The law needs to be updated to deal the contemporary context. Thus, before the amendments are made, the government should stop using it against non-film industry to assure everyone that their freedom of expression will not be curtailed.