Do not prosecute those who hurt feelings

A TV presenter was recently charged in the Sibu magistrate’s court with allegedly insulting the father of former national sprinter Watson Nyambek during a TV programme.

Azizul Ammar Abu Hassan was charged together with the producer of the TV programme Sukan Tak Sentral under Section 504 of the Penal Code.

The controversy occurred during a segment in April when Azizul Ammar purportedly insulted Watson's father by imitating the bleating of a goat when mentioning Watson's full name.

Although Watson himself did not watch the segment, he was told about the incident by his wife.  He then lodged a police report against the presenter, the network that aired the programme and the studio that produced the show.

He told the press that he and his family were humiliated by what happened and wanted stern action to be taken against the responsible parties.

Watson also expressed a desire to bring a civil suit against those responsible. To date however, it does not appear that he has filed any suit in this regard.

At the same time, the network, studio and the TV presenter have all apologised for the segment. However, Watson is reportedly adamant in proceeding with legal action.

There is little doubt that the segment was insulting and simply not funny.

Of course, the relevant parties must be more careful and discerning when preparing scripts and programmes to be aired.

Watson's anger is understandable. No one should question why Watson is so angry with the segment. To him, it was offensive. His feelings have been hurt.

Each person has his or her own threshold for anger and acceptance. Clearly for Watson, the segment crossed a line and he could not accept the apologies issued by those involved. That is his right. We cannot force him to accept the apology.

Yet, the presenter and producer have now been charged with a criminal offence.

Section 504 provides for the offence of "intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace". It is an offence, therefore, for a person to intentionally insult, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the other person to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence.

If convicted, the accused can be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to two years or with fine, or both.

The offence is not a minor one.

Whether Azizul Ammar and producer Abdul Ghani Mohd Mokhtar are guilty or not of the charge is something which must be proven in court when the time comes.

We should, however, ask whether there is a need for the two of them to be charged, essentially for hurting the feelings of another person.

The segment may have been offensive, but it still does not justify the intervention of the Public Prosecutor in proffering the charge.

The segment did not threaten public order or national security. It has not threatened persons or property.

Yes, it was rude and should rightly be condemned and criticised. But it is not the State’s business to ensure that feelings of individuals are not hurt. Being rude, insensitive, offensive or insulting, on their own, should not attract State intervention.

As such, there is no need for the Prosecution to charge Azizul Ammar and Abdul Ghani.

Let the matter be resolved by Watson and those involved themselves, instead of by way criminal prosecution.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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