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Monday, December 16th, 2019

Keep calm and uphold the national language in making our films — Young Professionals

by August 7, 2016 General

Keep calm and uphold the national language in making our films — Young Professionals

AUGUST 7 — The Young Professionals (YP) are perturbed and saddened to learn about the recent controversy following the decision of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) to segregate films into Bahasa Malaysia and non-Bahasa Malaysia categories at this year’s 28th Malaysian Film Festival (FFM28) together with the Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM).

We understand that local cinematographer Mohd Noor Kassim has withdrawn his participation in the event, citing racism as a reason for the same. He has further pledged to return his trophies won at previous Final film festivals, it seems.

Meanwhile, local actor Afdlin Shauki has informed the public via his Instagram account that he will be joining the boycott, backed by corporate figures such as CIMB Chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, AirAsia Chief Executive Officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Datuk Jurey Latiff Rosli of the Association of Malaysian Filmmakers (Gafim).

As rightly pointed out by FFM28 chief jurist Nancie Foo (who, by the way, is non-Malay), Bahasa Malaysia (or rather, Bahasa Melayu, since this is the term used in our laws) is our national language per Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.

It cannot be stressed enough that legally, use thereof is compulsory by all public bodies for official purposes, i.e. anything and everything done by the Government and all its branches (executive, legislative and judicial) and its ministries, agencies, offices as well as any statutory bodies, in connection with and in pursuance of the purposes of such bodies, for example in areas such as law and education. This is further reinforced by the National Language Act 1963/67.

Since Finas is a statutory body established by the Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia Act 1981, it is legally obligated to conduct all its business in the national language, such language being the Malay language. This is clear from the implications of the 1982 precedent of Merdeka University Berhad v Government of Malaysia.

In that case, Merdeka University’s application to set up a higher education institution using Chinese as the medium of instruction was rejected as, although Merdeka University was a private corporation, the institution it desired to set up would exist by virtue of and subject to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, and thus a public body for an official purpose.

It was held that all public bodies for official purposes must use the national language in their organisation. Finas is no different, being a statutory body established under the abovementioned 1981 Act.

Thus, YP considers that, all said and done, Finas, by promoting the Malay language via the language segregation of films nominated at its FFM28 event, is, in the eyes of the law, merely discharging its legal obligations under the Constitution.

Challenging Finas in this discharge, in our view, amounts to challenging the position of the Malay language as our national language per the Constitution, and is thus caught by section 3(1)(f) of the Sedition Act 1948 as to what amounts to sedition.

YP therefore strongly urges all parties who oppose Finas’ move with regard to promoting the Malay language to cease doing so, or risk being on the wrong side of the law.

This aside, it dismays us that after more than 60 years of independence, various quarters still not only fail to understand the exalted position of the Malay language as our national language, and indeed, our unifying language without regard to race or religion, but see fit to question the position of the same.

Mohd Noor Kassim postulates that in boycotting Finas’ film festival and returning his previously won trophies, he is able to send a message to the national film body that “racism” should not be tolerated in our local film industry.

Clearly he fails to understand the basic meaning of the word racism. Racism, in its ordinary sense, is defined as seeing other races as inferior to one’s own.

This is hardly the case with the segregation of films according to language, which has nothing whatsoever to do with race. Further, accusing anyone or anything as being racist is by its very definition, a serious matter. Allegations of racism should not be made on a whim, for if false, can clearly amount to defamation on the part of the one accused of being racist.

The Malay language, being the national language, is not for the exclusive use of those of Malay ethnicity, any more than the English language is with regard to the British. As English unites us internationally amongst the community of nations, the Malay language unites us as nationally as Malaysians.

It is often said that while not every Malaysian understands English, Chinese, Tamil or other vernacular languages, every Malaysian understands Malay.

Further, it must be borne in mind that P Ramlee’s famous Malay language films of yore, were produced by Ranme Shaw, who was non-Malay. Malay Film Productions Ltd, under which P Ramlee directed and stared in most of his movies, was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Shaw Brothers, who are internationally known for their prominent role in the development of Chinese cinema, both back then as well as today.

Most, if not all, of the movies and all associated intellectual property rights connected with his films, are still owned by the Shaw Brothers, who are now based in Singapore.

In theory, were any of P Ramlee’s classics more current and they were based in Malaysia instead of Singapore, they would be able to submit such films as entries in FFM28 and these would be within the main category of Best Picture reserved for national language films as the categorisation is based on the language of the film, not the race of its producer.

Likewise, Malays, should they desire, are free to make movies that are not in the Malay language and these doubtless would go under the Best Picture (non-Bahasa Malaysia) category, so Mohd Noor Kassim’s claim that the categorisation leads to racial polarisation and “Malays unable to compete with non-Malays” and Afdlin Shauki’s assertion that it promoted more “segregation” are ludicrous and without any basis whatsoever. It is, as Nancie Foo rightly pointed out, racialisation, no less.

Categorisation of films according to language is also by no means exclusive to Finas. The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, which are awarded by Finas’ American counterpart, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) only accepts American movies in the English language for all its categories, with only one category reserved for non-English films, namely the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

This is in spite of the US not having designated any language, even English, as its national language within its Constitution or any other of its laws.

We therefore urge all right thinking Malaysians, both Malay and non-Malay alike, to remain calm, reaffirm their shared national identity and say no to the racialisation shown by the likes of Mohd Noor Kassim, Afdlin Shauki, and others by rejecting their call for the boycott of FFM28.

Malaysians will do this best by collectively demanding that they end their actions and apologise to Finas and all others affected by the whole episode, for which they have only themselves to blame. We also urge the reaffirmation of our Federal Constitution and its provisions, particularly Article 152 on the Malay language as the national language and our language of unity without regard for religion or race.

We understand that the Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak has said that he will look into the matter. YP believes there is no need for him to do so.

The issue must be resolved in favour of the Malay language’s continued status as the main language for all Malaysians per the spirit of our Constitution, and we are confident that Finas, despite being challenged over the categorisation of films at the FFM28, is able to stand its ground on this and that Malaysia as a nation will be able to see through the hollow claims of those mounting such a challenge.

* Young Professionals (YP) are a group of Malaysian professionals from across the social strata and political spectrum who believe in the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and social contract.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.