July 23 (UPI) -- Malaysia's communication minister said Thursday that producers are required to apply for a license for all videos amid a dispute over a documentary by Al Jazeera Media Network.
The issue came up amid a dispute between the government and Al Jazeera Media Network over the network's documentary on a crackdown on undocumented workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Communications and Multimedia Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah had claimed on Sunday that the network's 101 East program did not apply for the necessary license to shoot the film, "Locked Up in Malaysia's Lockdown." On Wednesday, the network responded that the 101 East program is a current affairs show that does not fit the film category requiring a license.
Considering this dispute, opposition legislator Wong Shu Qi asked Saifuddin, who was addressing parliament Thursday, about filming licenses.
In response, Abdullah told legislators that a 1981 film production law in Malaysia requires all producers of videos to apply for a government license "regardless of whether they are mainstream media agencies or personal media that broadcast films on social media platforms or traditional channels."
Wong sought further clarification on his exact definition of film and whether this applies to social media platforms like Instagram TV or TikTok.
Saifuddin said that Section 2 of the law called the Finas Act 1981 says that film includes feature films, short films, trailers, advertising, "filmlets," and any recording on material of any kind, including videotapes and video discs of moving images, and documentaries for the public.
Backlash included some Twitter users criticizing Saifuddin's comments as a crackdown on individual free speech on social media and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim adding that his interpretation of the law was a "worrying development" amid "attacks and harassment of media, including Al Jazeera."
"It is clear the government wants all parties, be it politicians, or social media users to face action for content that may not fit the government's view," the opposition leader said.
After the backlash, Saifuddin issued a statement that said his comments in parliament were misrepresented.
"The government never had the intention of using this act to limit the freedoms of private individuals on social media," he said.
Still, on Wednesday, the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Malaysia had called the police inquiry against Al Jazeera "alarming," adding that if journalists "are now bound by rules and regulations that apply to film and documentary makers, such an action would have far-reaching consequences."