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Published: Wednesday April 9, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday April 9, 2014 MYT 2:25:30 PM

Banning in age of the Internet

Banning stuff, whether newspapers, books, music or movies in the age of the Internet, is like carrying water to the sea.

WHAT do Deep Throat, The Exorcist and Zoolander have in common?

They are all movies banned in Malaysia by the Film Censorship Board.

Deep Throat is banned because it is pornographic in nature; The Exorcist because it deals with the occult; and Zoolander because it is a comedy about a brainwashed male model out to assassinate Malaysia’s Prime Minister for being against sweatshop labour.

It is almost like as if the censors cannot tell apart real pornography, make belief and a bit of good fun.

In fact, the movie Zoolander actually shines a positive light on the Malaysian Prime Minister, when you think about it.

The Prime Minister is targeted because he is against worker exploitation. The real villains in the movie are the evil capitalist fashion moguls.

So far this year, three more movies have failed to make it past the censors’ board: Banglasia by Namewee, The Raid 2: Berandal (an Indonesian action flick) and Noah (a biblical epic).

The Government said Banglasia was offensive but did not even state a reason as to why The Raid 2 was banned.

It was due to hit Malaysian cinemas last month, but at the eleventh hour, it did not make it onto the list of new approved titles that week.

For the curious, the Indonesian movie is about police corruption and was earlier this year shown at Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim.

It was picked up by Sony Pictures for distribution.

Look it up on the Internet to see how well the Indonesian movie — which showcases silat and a righteous young Muslim cop — has fared globally.

Noah is banned for religious reason.

Censorship board chairman Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid said the film was with-held from local cinemas because it was insensitive.

He said the ban was a “precaution”.

“The movie is banned because for us Muslims, we believe in Prophet Noah (Nabi Nuh) and according to Islamic teachings, it is prohibited to act out any characters of a prophet,” Abdul Hamid told a national daily.

“Any depiction of any prophet is prohibited in Islam,” he added.

The Government has the right to ban films under the Cinematograph Films Act 1952 (Amendment 1966) and the Film Censorship Act 2002 (Act 620).

But the Government should also realise how futile it is to ban stuff in this age of the Internet.

Here, I am not just talking about the banning of movies (which also promotes the sale of pirated DVDs).

In this day and age, it is arguably better for the Government not to impose bans.

Why?

Because bans compel people to see out alternatives and to create content that is more subversive.

Banning a movie about corrupt officials is easy, but a filmmaker can still get the same message across by making a movie about, say, corrupt wizards.

Bans or limiting distribution lead to the growth of counter-culture, especially when the Internet is available.

This is clearly seen in the growth of alternative media, which, today, is as widely consumed as traditional mainstream media.

If the Government did not believe in the power of the Internet, it would not have bankrolled its own team of cybertroopers who include former reporters from newspapers.

Recently, a minister told Parliament that too many newspapers would “confuse” the people.

This claim is not true.

Instead, it is the lack of information that confuses people.

If there is one take home message from the MH370 debacle in terms of media management, it is that making available credible information quickly is key to minimising false reports.

Furthermore, if the Government is serious about minimising confusion, then it has to be consistent.

In a recent editorial, a national daily drew absurd links between the CIA and the disappearance of MH370.

The same editorial alleged the US Government might have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks on its own people.

These are grandiose conspiracy theories that are expected from the wildest rumour mongers on the Internet — or the silliest movies with farfetched plots — but certainly not from a mainstream newspaper.

The Government’s bans on certain movies and media organisations are intended as deterrent to others.

But these bans serve very little purpose when so much more is freely available a click away — for better or worse.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, East Malaysia, internet

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