Friday, September 26, 2003

Petition on Censorship

GAK ... no Friday Five questions for this week! Oh ... no! I have to be original for my Friday blog entry. The horror ... the horror of it all.

Well ... today is definitely not one of the days that I can think of something original to write. I have a bunch of things planned for this coming weekend. I have to go back to my parents place and spend the weekend with them. I need to do some shopping for new office wear as the ones I have now are practically coming apart at the seams (due to wear and tear rather than me gaining weight). I also need to get a new mobile phone since the piece of crap I’m using now is literally dying on me. Last but not least, I’m taking next Monday off to go to the LHDN office to clear up some problems with my income tax file before they charge me with tax evasion or something. I just hope that I would be able to get everything done this weekend.

I found the following petition from Nizam’s tag board and thought that it deserves to be highlighted to the visitors on my blog spot. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the visitors to my blog spot are actually the same people who visit Nizam’s place. Anyway ... this petition is organized by Artisproactiv to protest the recent theater performance guidelines introduced by KL City Hall. Read through the petition and sign it, if you are so inclined, by clicking on the link provided at the end of this entry. Join the fight against unreasonable and draconian censorship in Malaysia.


"We KLites must be broadminded and liberal enough to accept such shows"
Datuk Bandar Datuk Mohmad Shaid Mohd Taufik, Tuesday 22 July, 2003, Malay Mail

We, the undersigned, are concerned at the erosion of civil liberties we see happening in Malaysia. We are deeply disturbed by the fact that Dewan Bandaraya KL (KL City Hall) has decided to enforce a series of guidelines that severely limits the growth of a vibrant arts community. We are also worried that the application of these guidelines, even though they are limited at the moment to the performing arts, could impact upon the growth of all forms of public expression and the arts: from film-making to visual arts to literature.

This action by DBKL comes without any consultation or negotiation with the arts community. A committee was chosen by DBKL to act as moral guardians by giving them the power to decide what scripts are "doubtful" and should be rejected outright. It also has the power to censor performances as it sees fit.

In addition most art practitioners learned about the guidelines, and the committee chosen to vet scripts, through articles in the local press.

Transparency and openness seem to have been lost.

This process impacts negatively on the aspirations for the art. In his 2003 Budget speech the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad affirmed that the performing arts was an asset to the country's progressive and dynamic image and allocated RM 80.3 million to develop the arts.

City Hall has shown itself to be out of step with the direction the nation is taking by its latest action. That it does not understand the maturity of Malaysia's audiences was clear from the public outcry in July 2003 when it attempted to ban the work of Instant Cafe Theatre. In response to the public debate the Mayor himself came out in support of the need for more progressive liberal attitudes saying, "We KLites must be broadminded and liberal enough to accept such shows".

The Malaysian public has grown increasingly mature and willing to engage in debate and discussion. It is through speaking about our identity that we feel we belong – it is by encountering different opinions within our society, and recognizing that we remain united nevertheless, that we build a society that is vibrant, exciting and strong.

Audiences who come to see theatre in Malaysia make a choice – to come and be challenged, to laugh, to feel, to remember, to understand. Artists speak about identity – in talking about race or religion, about culture and ethnicity, we engage in a discussion about our true selves – about our memories and our understanding of how and why and where we are. The arts can contribute to a national dialogue, but only if it is not gagged.

We find it difficult to understand why DBKL has taken upon itself to “protect” an audience that does not need, nor want, that kind of “protection.” In fact, the arts audience desires choice and diversity. We may not like everything we see, but that does not mean we wish to see the stories and ideas silenced.

In 1990 The PAS-led state government of Kelantan issued a ban on all forms of traditional performance in that state for reasons similar to those announced by DBKL, signifying a concerted effort by both state and local authorities to increasingly intrude upon the space of cultural experience and illustrating that this attempt at censorship traverses all forms of cultural expression, in all cultural settings and in all languages.

The growth of the arts industry can be seen in increased private sector support for all elements of the arts, and by the flourishing of various sectors of the industry. However, the pattern of increasing censorship negates the growth we see, and creates conformity instead of diversity, and silence instead of discussion.

We feel it important to speak up now, to stem this tide of censorship. We speak not only as representatives from the arts community, but as concerned individuals who are part of a global society. We wish to see in Malaysia the support of all voices. We need the stories to be told, and the histories to be understood. Malaysia is an extraordinary country. We speak up now because we are committed to openness, diversity, discussion and debate.

Sign this petition at

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