KUALA LUMPUR--The ICT industry regulator has instructed local TV stations to remove a broadcast of a public service announcement encouraging all Malaysians to exercise their right to vote in the next elections, a local news portal has reported.
According to The Malaysian Insider, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) earlier this week directed local broadcasters not to use a video produced by local musician, Pete Teo, just days after it was first aired on Sept. 16.
The report cited an industry source to say that the MCMC e-mailed both Astro and Media Prima, the country's two largest broadcasters, instructing them that the video clip should not be aired because "Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah speaks about the country having 'many problems'" and it features opposition leaders. Razaleigh, a prince who hails from the north-eastern state of Kelantan, is a popular politician with the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional.
The video, named "Undilah" (which means "Please Vote" in Malay), also features several prominent oppositions including Nurul Izzah Anwar, the eldest daughter of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, and a Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai, a surburban area in Kuala Lumpur.
Another local broadcaster, NTV7, also aired the video but MCMC sent the e-mail only to the two major broadcasters which operate the majority of television channels in Malaysia.
Undilah was an attempt by Teo, an independent filmmaker and musician, to highlight the need for all Malaysians above the voting age of 21 to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Shot in black-and-white, the video features Razaleigh highlighting that there are problems in the country and also shows other Malaysians of various ethnic origins--speaking in Chinese, Malay and Tamil--encouraging viewers to vote.
The country is not due to call for general elections until 2013 but it is widely believed the incumbent government will call for one within six months to a year.
When contacted, Teo said he had no idea why the regulators deemed it necessary to block his video. "Perhaps they live in neighbourhoods where there are no problems at all and think we are misrepresenting the country," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.
He believed the video was yanked because it gave equal representation to opposition and government figures. "Again, I have no idea why they should find balanced representation of opposing political parties objectionable in a public service announcement," he said.
He noted that Prime Minister Najib Razak just last week made some concessions to relax media control and promised to review media laws to make Malaysia a vibrant democracy.
In a national broadcast on Sept. 15, Najib had pledged to abolish certain security laws, the most significant of which was the Internal Security Act, and review other laws pertaining to media control such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
"A week later, MCMC bans an independent and non-partisan public service announcement encouraging the nation to exercise their democratic rights," Teo said. "I find that as disappointing as it is ironic."
Ong Kian Ming, political scientist and lecturer at the UCSI University's faculty of Economics and Policy Science, noted that MCMC, like most other regulators, usually errs on the side of caution, especially in cases concerning sensitive political issues.
"Assuming the report is true, one should not be surprised by this move," Ong said in an e-mail. "The very fact that the Undilah video was put online is an indication that those who made the video did not expect it to have much airplay."
Ong said such issues pointed to a larger structural challenge Najib would face if he was serious about introducing greater liberalization in the local political sphere. "For there to be a mindset change that will prevent such moves in the future, there needs to be a concerted effort to change the personnel in these ministries, perhaps starting with the ministers in charge of these ministries. Najib cannot do this on his own," he said.
Concurring, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of political and economic think-tank, IDEAS Malaysia, said in an e-mail interview: "[If the report was true], it shows there are elements within the government who are not as forward thinking as Najib [who] should show that he is serious...[and] clear about the direction he wants to to take and make everyone commit it to."
Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.