KUALA LUMPUR - Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Thursday (July 23) that the Malaysian government has no intention of stifling people from posting personal videos on social media, walking back an assertion that raised a storm in the country.
His ministry had initiated a probe against broadcaster Al Jazeera for airing a controversial documentary on undocumented migrants in Malaysia, saying the Qatari television news channel filmed it without obtaining a licence from Malaysia's National Film Development Corporation (Finas).
Replying to a question in Parliament yesterday from an opposition MP, he said all individuals are required by law to have a licence for filming activities.
It raised the question of whether those in Malaysia are breaking the law every time they post videos on YouTube, TikTok, Facebook Live and other social media platforms.
"The rule applies to everyone, be it mainstream media or personal media," Datuk Saifuddin said.
"We encourage filming activities, but everything is subject to existing laws and regulations."
He faced a storm of criticism including from people who went onto his social media platforms to say the videos he had posted did not seem to have the Finas licence either.
Mr Saifuddin issued a statement on Thursday evening, saying: "It must be stressed that the Perikatan Nasional government never and does not intend to use this Act to obstruct personal freedom on social media, a phenomena that did not exist when the Act was drafted."
He said media platforms, such as TikTok and YouTube, did not exist when the Act was passed in 1981, and that the regulation needed to be updated.
"I explained in a press conference in my 100-day report card on June 20 that the ministry is assessing all the laws that come under it. We are open to suggestions to improve all these laws, and not just the ones debated in Parliament, to be relevant with the times," he said.
The government's enforcement of the licence requirement under the Finas Act against Al Jazeera - the first time it is being used against a media outlet - has drawn concerns from media watchdogs in the country.
The Centre for Independent Journalism said that it was alarmed by the government's actions against the broadcaster.
Al Jazeera, which has stood by its report, dismissed the licence requirement in a statement on Wednesday. It said that by Finas' own definition, Al Jazeera's 101 East documentary is a current affairs show that does not fall under the body's licensing requirements.