Censorship in Malaysia
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Censorship is a growing issue in Malaysia as it attempts to adapt to a modern knowledge-based economy. Malaysia has one of the world's strictest forms of media censorship, with nearly a hundred movies banned in this decade alone on the pretext of upholding morality. The Internet, however remains unfettered in line with upholding civil liberties and maintaining democratic spaces.
In 2010, Malaysia was ranked 141st in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. It was also given a "Partly Free" status on the Freedom in the World report by Freedom House in 2008. On the Freedom in the World index, graded on a scale of one to seven, with one being the most free and seven being the least, Malaysia obtained four points for both political rights and civil liberties.
Unlicensed use or possession of a printing press is illegal under the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984. Journalists are frequently given guidelines by the Prime Minister's Office when reporting 'sensitive' issues, and media self-censorship is encouraged.
The Film Censorship Board of Malaysia is the government agency responsible for granting licenses to the films for viewing.
Malaysia's censorship guidelines started out relatively lax. The guidelines were tightened in 2003 amid rising Islamic conservatism: kissing scenes and cleavages were censored, nudity and sex scenes were cut, and many movies were banned altogether. Censorship guidelines for local movie productions were subsequently eased in March 2010.
After the negative reactions towards the censoring of an article concerning the 2011 Bersih 2.0 rally, in mid-August 2011, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak stated that media censorship "is no longer effective" and that the government will review its current censorship laws.
Despite this promise, the Malaysian government again censored reports by the BBC and Al Jazeera on the 2012 Bersih 3.0 rally. Both organizations sent very strongly worded complaints to Astro Malaysia, the broadcasting company delivering the news, about the doctoring of their news reports. The complaints were dismissed with Astro saying that the news agencies "did not take cognizance of the duty of Astro to comply with local content regulations". The Minister of Culture and Information, Rais Yatim, went on record to say that "only the best parts of the report" were shown. There were also reports of the police seizing and destroying cameras and attacking journalists who attempted to take photos of what appeared to be police brutality.
Ex-Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said in 2003 that the guidelines surrounding censorship, which were drawn up in 1993, would be restudied because some of the rules "were no longer applicable". He reiterated that the main objective of the code was to build a better "Bangsa Malaysia". On the current censorship guidelines relating to nudity, he said that if a nude scene was "too explicit", then the scene would be axed. "It's up to the Board. They watch the scene and if it's too glaring then they will cut it. If it's not pornographic in nature, then they will allow it. It is very subjective." He also said, "Today's standard of morality and spirituality must be strong because people are exposed to all sorts of challenges" and "There is a correlation between criminal offenders and sex and violence shown on screen."
The censors pay special attention to nudity, sex, profanity, violence and sensitive religious themes in films. Films are rated to guide audiences on the nature of the content, or banned outright if the material is considered inappropriate. Any Hebrew and Yiddish-language movies and movies from Israel are not allowed to be shown in Malaysian cinemas. Rastafarian reggae is often censored, as it refers to "Zion" (meaning Zionism)
Concerns have been raised over the board's political neutrality, as it is under the control of the Malaysian home office. All newspapers need an official permit to print, which must be renewed annually. The licensing system allows the government to close media outlets at will and often encourages publishers to toe the line.
Media controls 
Up until the 11th of June 2011, Internet content was officially uncensored, and civil liberties assured, though on numerous occasions the government has been accused of filtering politically sensitive sites. Any act that curbs internet freedom is theoretically contrary to the Multimedia Act signed by the government of Malaysia in the 1990s. However, pervasive state controls on traditional media spill over to the Internet at times, leading to self-censorship and reports that the state investigates and harasses bloggers and cyber-dissidents.
The OpenNet Initiative found no evidence of Internet filtering in Malaysia in the political, social, conflict/security, and Internet tools areas in May 2007. and is on the Reporters Without Borders 2011 list of countries under surveillance.
Prime Ministers Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, on many occasions, have pledged that Internet access in Malaysia will not be censored and that it is up to parents to install their own censorship software and provide education to their children (provide self-censorship). The ISPs also actively deny that there are Internet filters in place when asked. However, the Communications Minister has occasionally announced that they are working on a nationwide filter, but each time such an announcement is made the Prime Minister makes a rebuttal to emphasize that there will be no Internet censorship. The state ministries of Terengganu and Kelantan have also announced that they have statewide filters in place in their respective states.
In 2006 Deputy Science and Technology Minister Kong Cho Ha announced that all Malaysian news blogs will have to be registered with the Ministry of Information. He justified this by stating the law was necessary to dissuade bloggers from promoting disorder in Malaysia's multi-ethnic society. The web page faithfreedom.org, which expresses a critical view on Islam, is blocked in Malaysia (December 2010).
WikiLeaks, the popular whistle-blowing site, has also been blocked by the Malaysian ISPs. Trying to access countries under categories brings a 'Link is Broken' error message for the user.
However, in June 2011, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission ordered the blocking of several websites including The Pirate Bay and several file-hosting websites, as well as peer-to-peer traffic, via a letter dated 30 May to all Malaysian ISPs for violating Section 41 of the Copyright Act 1987, which deals with pirated content. They later tried to add various other thinly-disguised excuses to justify the blockage, including accusing said sites of harboring viruses, and kept insisting that it is not censoring the internet despite said action being indeed internet censorship. Nevertheless, this led to the creation of a new Facebook page, "1M Malaysians Don't Want SKMM Block File Sharing Website"  which gained many Likes.
The blockage has had various negative consequences in the country. News of the censorship spread around, prompting hacker group Anonymous to launch a DDoS attack codenamed "Operation Malaysia". Only minor disturbance of several government websites were observed although most were due to the servers being shut down in anticipation of the attack. This action can be considered as a public outcry towards the pledge of the government that the Internet will not be censored since most of the hackers were Malaysian.
In February 2012, Malaysian authorities deported a Saudi journalist accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a tweet.
In May 2013, leading up to the 13th Malaysian General Election, there have been reports of access to pages of Pakatan Rakyat political leaders in Facebook and youtube videos critical of the Barisan National Government to be blocked. Analysis of the network traffic shows that the ISP were scanning the headers of the users and actively blocking requests to the video and to the Facebook pages. 
In August 2008, the Sisters in Islam (SIS), an Islamic organisation in Malaysia, was surprised to find that a book published in 2005 featuring a compilation of research papers was banned by the Home Ministry of Malaysia. SIS research and publications programme manager Masjaliza Hamzah said that activists and academics from Southeast Asia and the Middle East contributed to the book in 2003 and that it mainly focused on challenges Muslim women faced in their countries. A statement from SIS described the book: "It discussed strategies...used to curb extremism and promote women’s rights".
On 27 October 1987, Operation Lalang was carried out. In this operation, two daily newspapers, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and two weekly newspapers, The Sunday Star and Watan, were closed down for several months. They also had their publishing permits suspended temporarily. Prior to the operation, The Star was the primary English newspaper that provided news in the Opposition's point of view. This was considered treason, and during Operation Lalang, this newspaper was shut down. Most of the staff working for the four newspapers were laid off or otherwise threatened with prison and detainment, under the Internal Security Act.
In 2003, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, the former editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times, wrote an article criticizing Saudi Arabian policies that aided the United States invasion of Iraq among other things. As a result, the Saudi government reduced the Malaysian quota for haj and in the same year Abdullah "was fired without warning by the daily’s management at the request of the ruling UMNO party following a complaint by the Saudi ambassador in Malaysia." UMNO, which holds a stake in the paper, later stated that he had jeopardized Malaysia's close relationship with Saudi Arabia.
In June 2010, Suara Keadilan's publication was not renewed because it published a report which claimed that a government agency was bankrupt. Suara Keadilan is run by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Keadilan party. The Home Ministry, which overseas Malaysia's newspapers, said it was not satisfied with the paper's explanation for the allegedly inaccurate report.
In July 2011, parts of The Economist's article about the 2011 Bersih 2.0 rally were found to be censored by the Home Ministry on claims that the censored parts were "incorrect and misleading". The move was later slammed by politicians, who called it an outdated move in a maturing society. MCA vice-president Senator Gan Ping Sieu even recommended a better approach of rebutting the claims with facts and "lodging a complaint against the publisher" and that the censoring of the printed article which is also available online would only stir public curiosity and "would only result in more people learning about the article, thus defeating the ministry's purpose of censoring it in the first place." 
In January 2012, eagle-eyed readers of the AFP website found that the local tabloid The Star had removed the mention of Malaysia from an article sourced from the AFP. This discovery was posted to the 1 Malaysia Don't Want SKMM Block File Sharing Website page where many of the members criticized The Star for their action. Malaysia was removed from a mention of countries that practice internet censorship, reaffirming the readers that the country is indeed practicing internet censorship and is trying to hide the truth from the readers of the tabloid.
Malaysia has a history of censoring musicians. In 2003, American rock band Linkin Park was told to refrain from wearing shorts while performing and in 2004, singer Mariah Carey was asked to cover up. Madonna has been banned from Malaysian television and a scheduled concert by Norwegian metal band Mayhem was banned earlier in 2006. Malaysian organizers of a Pussycat Dolls concert were fined for flouting decency laws.
The country's opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, urged the government to order the cancellation of a concert on August 29, 2008 by Canadian rock singer Avril Lavigne. Her onstage moves were considered too provocative for Malaysia's teenage population. Eventually the concert went on as scheduled; it sold over 10,000 tickets and was a critical success in Malaysia. After the event, the government lifted some bans, allowing musicians to perform in Malaysia to boost tourism.
In 2009, the Malaysian government agreed to let Muslims attend a concert by U.S. hip-hop stars The Black Eyed Peas, reversing an earlier ban imposed because the show was sponsored by an alcoholic beverage company. The government did not give further details on the U-turn, which had caused an outcry in the Muslim-majority nation. The protest reflects growing conflicts between moderate and conservative Muslims, including many occupying positions of power in the government and judiciary, in a country that has long been considered a moderate society in the Islamic world.
Shows by Gwen Stefani and Beyoncé Knowles have also faced protests by conservative Muslims over immodest clothing, forcing the artists to don attire that revealed little skin. Moderate Muslims, Chinese, Indians and other non-Muslims criticised conservative Muslims, calling them "narrow-minded" in the wake of these events.
In 2010, the Wonder Girls were allowed to return to Malaysia for MTV World Stage Live in Malaysia, along with Katy Perry, despite her songs and clothing being too "sexy" for the Malaysian teenagers. Adam Lambert scheduled concert in Malaysia was given the green light amid moderate protests from fundamental Muslims over controversies pertaining to his sexuality.
Film and cinema 
Ownership of satellite receivers other than those provided by Astro is illegal without a license (which in itself is difficult and prohibitively expensive to obtain). Owners of such receivers without a license can face confiscation of equipment as well as a hefty fine if discovered. This is enforced through tip-offs, and owners can be found out quite easily, as many of these receivers rely on dishes that are significantly bigger than those provided by Astro.
In other aspects, kissing onscreen on local networks is prohibited, as are homosexuality, nudity and extremely graphic violence. Profanity is often muted out as well. For a short time in the early 2000s, images of pigs on terrestrial TV were also censored, although images of pigs are now apparently allowed, and there was no such censorship on satellite/cable TV. Although contractually, satellite networks cannot be censored in the country, Astro has censored news footage that is critical of the ruling government. It is the network's duty to ensure that the feed provided to cable and satellite providers in the country is free of all banned content. Therefore, the Malaysian feed of most channels is often the one meant for conservative areas, i.e. Taiwan and Indonesia.
On April 6, 2012, Information Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim said in a Twitter post that there is no censorship regarding the portrayal of LGBT characters on state-owned TV channels, including the portrayal of effeminate men; however the ministry has the right of select content suitable for the Malaysian public.
On May 1, 2012, the BBC strongly condemned Astro for tampering with their content on the BBC World News programme which was broadcasted on April 28, 2012, the day when a rally which demanded electoral reform named "Bersih 3.0" was held in Kuala Lumpur. According to the video posted on YouTube, some short interviews with two demonstrators were removed from the news clip. On top of that, a scene which showed the riot police firing tear gas and chemical-laced water at the protestors was also censored. On the next day, Astro admitted to censoring the BBC's Bersih 3.0 coverage but expressed their disappointment with the world-renowned news agency for failing to understand their intention to "comply with local rules". Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera asked for an explanation from the local satellite television operator to clarify reports it had censored their coverage of the same Bersih rally.
Censorship of nudity 
Books, magazines and prints containing nudity (including nudity of aboriginal peoples) or government sensitive material are censored manually by shading areas in black ink. Some books are made decent by removing entire pages.
Banned material 
Silverfish Books in Kuala Lumpur has reported on the censorship of foreign books in Malaysia. They have discovered the censorship of Czech author Milan Kundera, the banning of works by Khalil Gibran, Chinua Achebe, and Iris Chang, and the restriction of books by Rushdie and many others. They also managed to get a list of some of the restricted books from one of their distributors. The list includes literary fiction (e.g. work from Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, Anthony Burgess, Rebecca Wells), a fantasy novel by Robert Jordan, children’s books (e.g. SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer titles).
Censored comics include It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and The Best of Drawn and Quarterly. Censorship of nonfiction varies; it includes academic works such as: Mao: A Life and Making Globalization Work, as well as a host of books dealing with human bodies and/or sexuality, such as The Vagina Monologues, Breastfeeding Your Baby: Revised Edition and How to Talk to Your Child About Sex.
Television shows 
Among the titles that were blacklisted include:
- "The Queen Bee" episode on Ally McBeal
- "The Video Tape" and "But I'm A Cheerleader", two Friends episodes
- South Park is banned outright due to excessive vulgar content, sexual content and offensive, high impact violence.
- Family Guy has been banned outright due to depictions of vulgar and sexual content along with offensive depictions of sexual behavior. It was unbanned in 2010, but is heavily censored.
See also 
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- Map of Freedom in the World. Freedom House. Retrieved on 2008 – 08-03
- McAdams, Mindy (2007-06-12). "How to report a wedding". Asia Media.
- Nik Anis, Nazwin (2011-08-15). "PM: Media censorship no longer effective". The Star (Malaysia). Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTGogMq9NZ0. Missing or empty
- Chooi, Clara (2012-05-01). "BBC flays local censors for slashing Bersih coverage". The Malaysian Insider.
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- Shukry, Anisha (2012-05-02). "Rais defends Astro, says ‘best parts’ of BBC Bersih clip shown". The Malaysian Insider.
- Shukry, Anisha (2012-05-01). "Journalist groups call for impartial probe on police violence".
- ONI Country Profile: Malaysia", OpenNet Initiative, 10 May 2007
- Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders, Paris, March 2011
- Walker, Peter (5 December 2006). "Malaysia's mission unbloggable". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
- Chooi, Clara (2011-04-24). "Najib repeats promise of no Internet censorship". The Malaysian Insider. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- M. Kumar, Wong Pek Mei, and Jo Timbuong (11 June 2011). "No more free downloads as MCMC blocks 10 file sharing sites". The Star (Malaysia). Retrieved 11 June 2011.
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- "Operation Malaysia - List of Sites HACKED in Malaysia since official challenge by 'Anonymous' Hacker Group #OpMalaysia". Joshua Ong. 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2011-07-142011-07-14. Text " JOSHUAONGYS.COM" ignored (help)
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- Freemuse. American music performance banned from tv. Retrieved on 2008-01-19
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- "Yes, We Doctored The News – We Are "Disappointed" At Criticism From The BBC! ASTRO EXCLUSIVE!". Sarawak Report. 2012-05-01.
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- Baby dumping: Blame someone before someone blames you! Colin Boyd Shafer, The Malaysian Insider September 7, 2010