Finas says Al Jazeera filmed lockdown documentary without licence, will cooperate with police probe

Finas said Al Jazeera did not have the necessary licence to film or air its documentary on the alleged mistreatment of migrants in Malaysia. — Reuters pic
Finas said Al Jazeera did not have the necessary licence to film or air its documentary on the alleged mistreatment of migrants in Malaysia. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — News outlet Al Jazeera did not have the necessary licence to film or air its documentary on the alleged mistreatment of migrants in Malaysia, the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) said today.

In a brief statement today, Finas said it had carried out an investigation on Al Jazeera International (M) Sdn Bhd regarding the production of the documentary titled Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown, which Finas said was aired over social media.

“From the findings of preliminary investigations, Finas found that that company does not have a Film Production Licence and that there was no application for a Certificate for Filming for the filming of that documentary,” Finas said in the statement posted on its official Facebook page.

“Finas will give its full cooperation to the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) in carrying out investigations against Al Jazeera (M) Sdn Bhd under Section 22(1) of the Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia Act 1981 (Amendment 2013) for carrying out filming activities, that is the activity of producing a documentary film without a valid licence from Finas,” it concluded.

Malay Mail’s check of the Act shows Section 22(1) as stating that no person shall engage in any activities of production, distribution or exhibition of films or any combination of these activities unless there is a licence authorising the person to carry out such activities.

Under Section 25 of the same Act, it is stated that any person who contravenes any provisions of the part of the law — which includes Section 22(1) — is guilty of an offence.

The same Section 25 provides for a punishment of a maximum fine of RM50,000 or a maximum jail term of two years or both if a person is convicted of an offence under the Act, with a maximum daily fine of RM10,000 if the offence is a continuing offence.

Among other things, Finas’ functions under the Act include the development of the film industry, and the regulation and control of the production, distribution and exhibition of films in Malaysia and to issue licences for such purposes.

Yesterday, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah reportedly said his ministry will check if Al Jazeera had obtained a licence from Finas to produce the documentary before it started production, saying that a lack of licence would be considered an offence as permission from Finas is needed before films and documentaries can be produced in Malaysia.

National news agency Bernama had yesterday also reported Saifuddin as saying that his ministry will via the Information Department check if Al Jazeera had violated media accreditation conditions.

Saifuddin was reported saying that the Information Department will cancel Al Jazeera’s media accreditation if it was found to have violated such conditions, noting that the crew would not be free to go anywhere without the media cards issued by the department.

Centre for Independent Journalism Executive Director Wathshlah G. Naidu speaks during an interview with Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur July 20, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Centre for Independent Journalism Executive Director Wathshlah G. Naidu speaks during an interview with Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur July 20, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Earlier today, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said it was alarmed over the Communications and Multimedia Ministry’s plan to review Al Jazeera’s accreditation and checks for a production licence over the documentary, describing this as the latest form of state retaliation against the Qatar-based broadcaster.

Among other things, CIJ had urged the government to drop all investigations into Al Jazeera, while also urging Saifuddin to support media independence and press freedom.

The CIJ said the government should provide a data-based rebuttal of the Al Jazeera documentary instead of merely branding it as allegedly misleading or inaccurate, pointing out that the government had instead initiated police investigations and questioned Al Jazeera staff over the documentary.

The CIJ reiterated its call for an internal investigation by the government over the potential issues in the treatment of undocumented migrants during the movement control order, also urging Saifuddin to proceed with the formation of the Malaysian Media Council “as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry and to avoid the government and its agencies from becoming the sole arbiter of truth”.

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