The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia has strongly condemned the Film Censorship Board's (LPF) letter to local broadcasters against advertising undergarments, even when they are not worn by live models, arbitrary censorship and moral policing.
According to a letter dated 24 August that is being circulated, LPF warned broadcasters of displaying innerwear in their home shopping segments. LPF explained that while the ad does not show the innerwear worn live by a model and does not involve indecent visual displays, the advertisement of innerwear will still offend the community, especially those related to race, religion, gender, and age.
"Furthermore, the need to preserve the manners, decency and sensitivities of the multi-racial and religious communities in Malaysia is of paramount importance," the letter said.
Although it has reviewed the appeal filed earlier and views issued by the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, LPF said it still adheres to article one, part iii of the Film Censorship Guidelines 2010. According to the guidelines, film ads or all forms of the message presented which promotes a brand, product or service must be ethical. Meanwhile, media outlets reported that there was another letter sent to broadcasters on 3 September which reiterated that the advertisement of innerwear is offensive to the community. A+M has reached out to LPF as well as the broadcasters for comment.
In response, CIJ's executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said the use of the Film Censorship Guidelines 2010 and its related provisions on ads seems rather arbitrary. According to her, it is unclear what the harm is in this context.
LPF must clearly spell out why such advertisements are deemed as 'offensive' and 'indecent', and how it affects the 'sensitivities of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society'.
Naidu explained that failure to do so could be interpreted as LPF "imposing its moral biases and prejudices aimed at censoring anything that connotes to or is a reflection of body parts and images". She also explained that the state and its actors must facilitate healthy discussions and education on bodily integrity rather than create more harm by turning such topics into taboo.
She also called on the relevant authorities to focus on more pressing issues rather than contributing to "state-sponsored censorship". She added that it is more critical to proceed with plans to establish the Malaysian Media Council and let the media arbitrate matters regarding the media, as well as come up with their own code of ethics and content better reflecting life in the 21st century.
In the letter, Naidu was of the view that a common argument in support of censorship is that notions of decency, morals and modesty must always prevail, and so laws and restrictions must be in place to safeguard such standards for the betterment of society. However, she pointed out that these concepts mean different things to different people. Hence, the use of such laws and restrictions in such a scenario must be discouraged. "A pluralistic and informed society should be promoted, not restricted," Naidu added.
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