KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A decades-old Malaysian law requiring video or film productions to be licensed before being broadcast extends to social media, a minister said on Thursday, prompting an outcry from the opposition over its implications for freedom of expression.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told parliament that licences were needed “regardless of whether they are mainstream media agencies or personal media that broadcast films on social media or traditional channels”.
Opposition lawmakers accused the government of trying to cast a wide regulatory net on social media content using a 1981 National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) Act, which predates the internet.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said the minister’s interpretation was a “worrying development”, saying: “This is unreasonable and backwards. At the same time, the government believes it will uphold freedom of speech.”
“It is clear the government wants all parties, be it politicians, or social media users to face action for content that may not fit the government’s view,” Anwar added in the statement.
In a statement after the uproar, Saifuddin said he was only explaining the current status of the law and that the government was aware of the need to improve it to match present needs.
“It must be stressed that the PN government has never thought of using the act to stifle individual freedom on social media,” he said, using the acronym for the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition.
Over 80% of Malaysia’s 32 million population are active social media users, according to the Digital 2020 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite.
Opposition lawmaker Wong Shu Qi said that according to the minister’s interpretation, any privately uploaded video would be deemed illegal.
Individuals convicted under the act face penalties of up to 50,000 ringgit ($11,748.12), a maximum of two years in jail, or both.
“Will the government take action against all TikTok users? Will the government request every YouTuber to apply for licence?” Wong said, referring to two popular social media platforms.
(Editing by Martin Petty and Alison Williams)