Analysis: 7 days too many? MY content creators worry about new filming regulation

Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Ministry (KKMM) recently caused chatter online when its minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on 23 July that it is necessary for all film producers to apply for a Film Production Licence and Film Shooting Certificate, regardless of whether they are mainstream media outlets or personal social media platforms, media reports from outlets including The Star and Channel NewsAsia said.

In response to member of parliament Wong Shu Qi, Saifuddin said that film producers should inform the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) and submit the forms seven days before the filming. Quoting Section 22 (1) of the FINAS Act, the minister said that no individuals are to engage in the production, distribution and exhibition of films or a combination of activities unless they are licenced to do so.

According to the FINAS website, applicants who apply for a production film or video licence must be registered as owners of a private limited company, have a paid-up capital of no less than RM50,000, have done production planning for either drama, telemovie, advertising and others for a period of three years, as well as a resume of all its company's shareholders, among others. It is also compulsory for companies to have a minimum 30% equity held by a Bumiputera for up to five years. From the sixth year onwards, majority of the equity holders have to be Malaysians and 30% of the minimum equity will still have to be held by Bumiputera.

When asked by member of parliament Wong Shu Qi if this would affect social media users on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, Saifuddin quoted section two of the FINAS Act, Channel NewsAsia said. According to the section, the definition of films included feature films, short films, short subject films, trailers, documentaries, advertising filmlets and any recording on material of any kind, including video tapes and video discs, of moving images, accompanied or unaccompanied by sound, for viewing by the public or any class of the public.

Nonetheless, he said that the government encourages individuals from all walks of life and companies to produce any form of films, "as long as it follows the law". Channel NewsAsia reported that Saifuddin copped flak from opposition politicians and MPs, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim saying that his "unreasonable" statement was "a step backwards". He added that it is clear the government will clamp down on content which might not align with its views, be it from a politician or social media user. Meanwhile, former youth minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said the licence application requirements "would kill" Malaysia's creative content industry, Channel NewsAsia said.

Saifuddin's comments have also caused confusion and uproar on social media, with netizens finding it absurd that they would have to set up a company and have a paid-up capital of at least RM50,000 in order to post a film on their personal social media platforms. 

On the same day, KKMM issued another statement with Saifuddin clarifying his statement made in parliament. He explained that media reports have painted an "inaccurate picture" which caused the meaning of his answer to be misinterpreted. 

"When answering that question, I was just explaining the existing law, namely the FINAS Act approved by parliament in 1981. The Act has been applied all this while, that is, by previous governments, including Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan," Saifuddin said.

He added that in 1981, there was no social media platforms such as TikTok or YouTube present. As such, KKMM notes that the Act needs improvement. Saifuddin said that this was already stated in his press conference on 20 June, which said that KKMM is re-evaluating all laws.

"It should be emphasised that the Perikatan Nasional government has never and does not intend to use this Act to restrict the personal freedom of the individual in social media, which is a phenomenon that did not exist when this Act was enacted. Therefore, we at KKMM are open to accept any suggestions in improving not only the Act was debated [yesterday] morning, but also all laws under the supervision of KKMM to be in accordance with the current requirements," he explained. The Perikatan Nasional government is the incumbent which came into power in February this year after former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned.

Shortly after this article's publication on 24 July, the ministry said the Malaysian government reaffirms its stand to uphold the principles of media freedom and the right of individual freedom on social media sites. Saifuddin added:

Social media users are free to use existing platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and so on, including producing and uploading videos as usual without having to apply for a licence or worry about being sued by FINAS.

The government will amend the FINAS Act to take into account of the current situation. Statistics from Meltwater from 22 July to the morning of 24 July showed that 89% of online sentiments were negative while 3% were positive. The topic had over 26.2k hits on social media and some of the trending keywords were "FINAS licence", "criminals", "films" and "personal social media".

Prior to the government's retraction, Big Film Studio's executive producer Danish Mumtaz told A+M that he understands the need for the government regulation on media content, but globally, this is done for broadcast platforms. In Malaysia, any media going for broadcast needs several approvals from government bodies before the station can air it. But more brands are opting to produce commercials for digital media, he said. According to Mumtaz, this is normally unregulated in the majority of the world, based on the fact that the brand will follow the laws and culture of the country. "All the brands we have worked with are extremely careful about any content posted on social media, he said, adding:

For production houses to get permits will increase the red tape, as well as the cost of production which is already under pressure.

Meanwhile for personal video content, Mumtaz said there is currently no way for governments to monitor content posted by either brands or individuals, except by the social media platform itself. He added that several countries have laws to ensure that private citizens and residents do not post inflammatory or insensitive content online, which is understandable and far easier to monitor. "But trying to regulate every cooking, cat or meme video posted by people on YouTube or Facebook is near to impossible," he said.

Although it will be business as usual for Big Film Studio since it is already licenced by FINAS, the only pain point is the permit to film online content as turnaround times on projects continue to be shorter. This is because brands want production houses to be more agile and responsive.

"Brands and agencies will have to take this seven-day application into their planning process when developing production schedules. If the government initiates an urgent processing option as well, within two days for example, it would make the law more flexible for business," he added. Nonetheless, Mumtaz agreed with Saifuddin in that FINAS needs to modernise its processes regarding permits and submissions.

Likewise, Malaysian content creator Jin Lim, also popularly known as Jinnyboy, also said that the Act was before the age of social media and mobile phones, as such it should change with the times.

"If they are going to enforce [the Act] without changing it, this will limit plenty of up and coming content creators who do not have huge capital to begin and mainly produce homemade videos," Lim explained. According to him, such issues should be revisited and a clearer statement published for the public so that individuals will know what the exact ruling is. He added that as of now, a general statement was given and individuals are making their own conclusions. 

"Everything is so generalised right now, everyone can record and film a video. [The ministry] needs to outline the details and not take away the freedom of expression just by generalising one rule that was implemented years ago," Lim said. 

The seven-day period is also a concern for content creators, Lim said. If FINAS is able to approve the application instantly or online, that is fine. Otherwise it would be an inconvenience to content creators such as him because they produce content online and require a quick turnaround time.

"If a client approaches me on Instagram to do a video within three days, I'm unable to do it. Brands always look for something that is in trend to ride on," Lim said.

If content creators cannot have a fast turn around time when it comes to video content, which is the biggest trend to hop on right now, this will be a problem for brands.

According to him, this might lead to a low influx of media content, or content that features more stop-motion or pictures. But even then, some things are just better told on video, he added.

Meanwhile, founder of Blaqurium Productions, Blake Yap, said individuals such as Syed Saddiq have been asking the right questions during yesterday's parliament session and he too hopes that FINAS will amend the licencing requirements that do not fit the current times.

"It definitely will affect the content creation industry as you never know what kind of road bumps you might run into especially for small scale productions and content creators. For me, I am just following the developments of the situation and will lend my support where its needed, which is the content creation community," he added.

Photo courtesy: 123RF