Underwear Ads: ICJ Condemns Arbitrary Censorship and Maintaining Moral Order


The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) strongly condemns the Film Censorship Board’s warning to local broadcasters against advertising underwear, even when not worn by live models, arbitrary censorship and morality police.

On September 10, a report which quoted letters to two local broadcasters on the matter, was published.

A letter, dated September 3, reportedly said advertising of the underwear is offensive and inappropriate, even though live models do not wear it and there are no indecent visual displays. The letter also called for these broadcasts to be stopped.

Another letter, dated August 24, reportedly based the board’s warning on an article in the 2010 Film Censorship Guidelines, which states that advertisements for films or any form of message presented that promotes an organization , a branded product or service must be ethical.

The two broadcasters have since deleted the segments in question.

A common argument in support of censorship is that notions of decency, morality and modesty must always prevail, and therefore laws and restrictions must be in place to protect these standards for the betterment of society.

However, these concepts mean different things to different people – what may be indecent to one person may be perfectly acceptable to someone else. The use of such laws and restrictions in such a scenario should therefore be discouraged; a pluralistic and informed society should be encouraged, not restricted.

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Societal norms, standards and related prejudices, in themselves, are based on historical, political and social contexts from earlier eras. They are also constantly evolving and should be challenged if they are problematic, instead of just accepting them at face value with no questions asked.

In addition, any restriction on expression and speech, such as censorship, must always take into account internationally accepted standards, which are guided by human rights principles and instruments. A harm test is usually carried out to determine necessity, proportionality and legality, and it is only if all three criteria are met that restrictions can take place. Any censorship action by the censorship board must take into account the criterion of harm.

The use of the Film Censorship Guidelines 2010 and its related advertising provisions, which require that “advertisements for films or any form of message presented that promotes an organization, product or service of brand must be ethical ”, seems rather arbitrary. It is not known what the prejudice is in this context.

The Film Censorship Board should clearly explain why such advertisements are considered “offensive” and “indecent”, and how they affect the “sensitivities of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society”.

Failure to do so could be interpreted as the council imposing its moral biases and aiming to censor anything that connotes or reflects body parts and images. The state and its actors must facilitate healthy discussions and education on bodily integrity rather than creating more harm by turning these topics into taboos.

Above all, we call on the relevant authorities to focus on more pressing issues instead of contributing to state-sponsored censorship. It is more important to move forward with the plans for the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council. Let the media arbitrate media issues and come up with their own code of ethics and content that better reflects life in the 21st century.

As the council’s establishment has been long delayed, we hope the new Minister of Communications and Multimedia will include the expedition of the process as part of his 100-day KPIs based. Ending arbitrary state censorship should also be on the agenda for him and the Home Secretary.

Wathshlah G Naidu is Executive Director of the Independent Journalism Center

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