How do we handle media censorship?

How do we handle media censorship?
By Zan Azlee

The technical definition of media censorship is “the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information that may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions”.

Personally, I do not believe in censorship. It is basically a form of control exercised by the select few who are powerful in order to suppress the many who are powerless so that they will remain in power. It means that thoughts, opinions and ideas can always be controlled.

There should not be an authoritative party allowed to dictate what can and cannot be said by the public. This goes against freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the media. It is against human rights.

If there should be any form of censorship, then it should be in the form of societal control. The power to determine what is said and expressed should be with the public and no one else because the public are the consumers.

Take, for example, the case last year when The Edge published a series of stories on the 1MDB scandal. The government suspended their licence for three months, and even though the court ruled that it was a wrongful suspension, it was too late.

That would be a form of media censorship by the government because they used their powers to take action against a media organisation that they thought had spread information that was non-beneficial to them.

I see this as wrong because the government is playing Big Brother and trying to serve only their interests instead of the public when we all know that journalists are supposed to act as watchdogs and serve the society at large.

Now if it was societal censorship, then members of the public would be the one with the power to decide if such information is wrong or not. If they had disagreed with the stories on 1MDB, then they can choose not to read them or purchase The Edge. Hence, these stories would not gain traction.

Society can also object to the articles and counter argue them. This would come in the form of civilised debates and discourses. This would benefit everyone because it would mean that the issue would be discussed and analysed further for better understanding among the public.

But of course, the abolition of systematic and authoritative censorship and the implementation of societal censorship is something that can only happen in an ideal world. And we live in a world that is far from ideal.

It would mean that every layer of society needs to be educated, intellectual, fair, mature and responsible enough to take on the practice of societal censorship. Because if we don’t have that maturity, then it would be quite chaotic and almost anarchical.

So, it’s a damn if you do and damn if you don’t situation.

Documentary banned

I think that I’ve managed to find peace and a balance in the currently existing situation. As much as I think we should always push the envelope of censorship and challenge authority, we still have to work within the system, or better yet, around it.

That is one of the reasons why, as a journalist and content producer, I try to be as multimedia as possible. It is because the different media platforms in Malaysia have varying degrees of tolerance and sensitivity.

A few years ago, I produced a documentary film called ‘The Life and Times of an Islamic Insurgency’ and had licensed it to a local television station for broadcast. It went through the Censorship Board and was approved without any cuts.

Surprisingly, on the eve of it going on air, the broadcaster called me up and informed me that it had been ordered by the ‘higher-ups’ in government not to broadcast the documentary. I was not given any reason as to why the sudden ban.

Obviously, I was upset. I wrote about it in my columns and made public statements on the matter. But there was really nothing much I could do it about it. The television broadcast ban would remain and my grousing would have been a waste of time and energy.

So, what I did do after that was to write a book version of my documentary. And since it was only banned for television broadcast, the publisher and I provided a free DVD of the documentary together with a purchase of the book.

The book, titled ‘Operation Nasi Kerabu: Finding Patani in an Islamic Insurgency’, has been on sale in the bookstores since 2011. In fact, I have just released an updated version of the book with a new chapter with fresh content (Yes, go get it at any good bookstores now!).

With all this being said, I still want to make it clear that media censorship is not something that I agree with. We should not settle for it or just accept it and try to work within the system. All I am saying is that there are ways to go around it.

At the end of the day, we need to constantly fight against unfair media censorship and push for our right to express ourselves and to share information with others. For a society to progress, we need to have a free flow of information, ideas and thoughts so that we can mature together. Then maybe one day we can really implement societal censorship.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!


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