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Freedom of expression and Malaysian film and television drama
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posted on 09.02.2017by Tung, Rina Pooi Ching Binti Abdullah
This thesis addresses questions of freedom of expression in Malaysian film and television. This thesis is a multi-disciplinary study using a variety of frameworks and methodologies, including philosophical discussion of rights and freedoms, and media law, as well as methodologies from film and television studies. While broad philosophical questions are raised, the study locates itself in the specificities of Malaysian law (including the Malaysian Constitution and related legislation, formulated both prior to and subsequent to Malaya achieving independence) and in products of the Malaysian film and television industries. In my introductory Chapter in addition to surveying the relevant literature, I propose a number of criteria as to what constitutes freedom of expression in general. The exploration proper begins in Chapter Two with a detailed examination of legislation relating to the media in Malaysia, drawing conclusions about the ways in which in principle these laws support or infringe on the possibilities of freedom of expression. In Chapter Three I then commence exploration of the impact of Malaysian law and the ethos of the Malaysian political situation on the media itself, with a case study of a television program and associated film and they way these works represent the police force in Malaysia. The theme of this chapter is the representation of authority and of authority figures in Malaysian film and television, and the chapter draws analogies between the ways in which the police are able to control their representation on television in film, with the way in which other authority figures are able to insist on the validity of their authority. In Chapter Four I explore the representation of women in Malaysian film and television using as my case study some key examples from over thirty years of film and television. A conclusion that emerges here is that whatever freedoms women have achieved in terms of individual autonomy over a thirty-year period, they are still expected to be subservient to their husbands. In Chapter Five I explore how Malaysian identity is represented in the work of some key filmmakers, and then go on to explore the expression on television of inter-ethnic interaction, noting in particular the constraints to which such representations are subject to, and the prevalence of general ethnicity-based stereotypes. In Chapter Six, after surveying in some detail the range of ways in which Islam is represented on Malaysian television, I address the fact that in Malaysia there is a prohibition on the direct representation in the media of any religion other than Islam. I conclude that restrictions on film and television production make it extraordinarily difficult for these mediums to contribute to political, social and religion discussion and debate. This study is not simply a negative account of what it is not possible to do in Malaysia. Rather in some key examples I highlight ways in which more diverse approaches to representing women, ethnicity and religion have been attempted in Malaysia by some key filmmakers and by some television producers and their staff.