Enhancements to the Content Code

Commenting on the Content Code, CMCF executive director Mediha Mahmood told StarBiz she was proud of the enhancements to the Code and described it as a Content Code that’s made by the people for the people.

PETALING JAYA: The much awaited enhancement to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code (Content Code) 2022 is now in force. It was successfully registered on May 30.

The Content Code is a self-regulatory framework to promote good practices and standards among content producers.

The Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF), which was established in February 2001, governs content and addresses content-related issues.

Commenting on the Content Code, CMCF executive director Mediha Mahmood told StarBiz she was proud of the enhancements to the Code and described it as a Content Code that’s made by the people for the people.

She shared several key highlights and enhancements to the Code.

> Upholding rights of children in advertisingAccording to Mediha, previously there was a sub-code on advertising for children, and this has now been incorporated into the Content Code.

“The intention was to address not just advertisements targeting children but also advertisements featuring children. The main essence being that ads shall not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.

“To ensure that advertisements do not exploit this desire for attention, one of the provisions introduced states that the use of children is not encouraged unless the products advertised are relevant to them or except in the context of promoting safety for the children.

She said the Content Code has introduced provisions for ads not to include a direct exhortation to children to persuade their parents or other adults to buy something for them.

Other than that, she said it would also focus on preventing harm by making sure that ads addressed to children shall not contain anything, which may result in harming them physically, mentally, or morally.

> Upholding rights of people with disabilities The Content Code establishes that any form of humour or ridicule based on physical, mental, or sensory disability may be offensive, even where no malice is intended, she said. For example, using the word “retarded” or “schizo” is an insult.

Emphasise the individual not the disability, Mediha noted. “We also address content accessibility. Basically, the Code requires everyone to understand that people with disabilities have the right to equal access to information and as such, we must ensure that content is provided in accessible formats and technologies appropriate for them,” she said.

> Ensuring ethical reporting of suicide casesShe said there have been many instances of news reports and even social media sharings of news relating to suicide cases where the content breaches the Ministry of Health Guidelines for Media Reporting on Suicide 2011.

“CMCF felt that it was probably because most people were unaware of the issue of suicide contagion. In fact, more than 5% of youth suicides are influenced by contagion,” she said.

Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviours including through media reports of suicide, which can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors.

“That’s why the Neflix series 13 Reasons Why fuelled heated debates because searches and discussions about suicide among the youth skyrocketed in the wake of the show’s release.

“We are very grateful to everyone, especially the mental health advocates and professionals, who helped to guide us in making sure ethical suicide reporting is appropriately addressed in the new Content Code,” Mediha added.

> Addressing abuse of religion in advertisementsThere appeared to be an influx of advertisements and marketing campaigns that used or abused religion as a marketing gimmick.

For example, she said using religious personalities to provide religious testimonials promoting or endorsing products or services as if it is sanctioned by the religion itself or making claims or false interpretations of religious teachings to give false promises to consumers.

This was seen as an exploitation of the religion for commercial gain and also, from the context of advertising, it can be seen as a misleading ad or claim,” Mediha said.

> Prohibition against online abuse and gender-based violenceShe said the Content Code already has provisions relating to content on violence, both physical and psychological. But looking at the way things are right now, with regards to people’s behavior online, she said there is a need to address content that incites or provokes any act of abuse and gender-based violence.

The Code now includes, in its definition of violent content, any content that incites online abuse and gender-based violence.

> Addressing false content and its impact on the communityMediha said this was already addressed by the Code in the previous version. The only change is to make clear that content, which contains false material or incomplete information and is likely to mislead, must be avoided, she said.

“This is to limit the likelihood of perpetuating untruths that may cause public fear or panic or is prejudicial to public order or national security,” she said.

> Ensuring influencers, online marketplaces are guided by advertising guidelines

This provision ensures that advertising guidelines, and as such, best practices, are to be complied with by influencers and online marketplace operators.

Influencer marketing is indeed a force to be reckoned with, she said, noting that research has shown that 80% of consumers have purchased something via an influencer recommendation.

“In a nutshell, influencers need to exercise self-regulation and be very careful about the kinds of content they are paid to post or share.

“They must protect themselves from being used to flout laws or regulations by irresponsible and unethical brands or advertisers, and this includes not getting involved in misleading ads, especially those that might have a huge negative impact and heavy financial implications on their followers i.e. consumers,” Mediha said.

> Requiring disclosure of advertisements from influencers and paid-for space in news

On social media, she said when an influencer talks about a particular brand, it’s not self-evident whether it is their independent opinion or if they’ve been incentivised by the brand.

“This is why it’s important for influencer ads to be clearly distinguished from other posts. Again, we’re looking at the principle of misleading advertisements,” she said.

On the issue of paid-for space in news, she said the new revamped Code makes it clear that news programmes also need to disclose a paid segment or advert clearly, so it will not mislead viewers into thinking that it is part of the news.

“If such segments are not made clear that they are paid for or sponsored, it may mislead viewers into thinking that the product or service is so good that it made it into the evening news by pure merit – which, aside from misleading consumers, it also puts their competitors at an unfair disadvantage.

“Essentially, this rule requires followers and viewers, who are potential consumers, must be given the opportunity to recognise such sponsored content before engaging with it,” Mediha noted.

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