Creating within constraints

Creative industries policy in Malaysia

Authored by: Thomas Barker , Lee Yuen Beng

Routledge Handbook of Cultural and Creative Industries in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138959927
eBook ISBN: 9781315660509
Adobe ISBN:


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Malaysia has often been characterized as an illiberal or semi-authoritarian regime, in which civil liberties and forms of expression are curtailed and constrained (Yeoh 2010; Means 1996). 1 Control over speech is maintained through a political economy of media ownership linked to the ruling coalition (Nain 2002), legal mechanisms such as the Sedition Act, and the promotion of a top-down National Cultural Policy which is designed ‘to create a stable and unified nation’. 2 These controls constrain forms of political and cultural expression, especially on ‘sensitive’ topics and content that is outside permissible limits or norms. In 2006, these tensions played out in the case of the documentary film The Last Communist by Amir Muhammad. Although the film passed censorship without cuts, 3 a concerted campaign by Berita Harian journalist Akmal Abdullah brought the film to the attention of the Ministry of Home Affairs which then decided to ban the film (McKay 2011). The film shows new filmmaking techniques and subject matter (Khoo 2011). But a film with ‘communist’ in the title was too provocative for what Benjamin McKay called ‘current political anxieties’ (2011: 54). The case of The Last Communist and others like it provoked informal and formal discussions within the arts and entertainment communities about the conditions under which culture can be made and consumed, suggesting that these are important questions for those involved in what we might otherwise call the creative industries.

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