Malaysia

Self-censorship futile, says Marina Mahathir

By Anisah Shukry
May 12, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 12 — Self-censorship has become a rampant problem in this country, activist and columnist Marina Mahathir said, adding that such a practise was an exercise in futility for journalists. 

“The problem with self-censorship that is rampant in this country is that we anticipate what’s going to offend people, and we write around it,” Marina said in an interview this morning with BFM Radio's The Week in Review segment hosted by Sharaad Kuttan. 

“We can’t anticipate for every single individual in this country. There are 27 million people, all with potential trigger points,” said the daughter of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. 

She added that while censorship existed in Malaysia, journalists should just “deal with it” and do their job, which she said was to write about observations. 

“I was really inspired when I met this Burmese journalist...They have much worse problems because their censors ask to see their pieces before it’s published and check again after to make sure they follow the guidelines,” she related. 

“So they have spent years playing cat and mouse game with the censors. But in the end, he said ‘I just write, it’s my job, they do their job. I’m not going to self censor’.” 

Marina said she herself refuses to “tailor” her writings to avoid being censored, a stance which resulted in two of her articles in her ‘Musings’ column for The Star being slashed. 

“I don’t know (what was objectionable about my article), but my editors at The Star have been given warnings about what they can and cannot publish,” she said. 

“So a really intense level of paranoia has set in to the point that everything they think might cause offence, they’d rather take out.” 

The two articles in question were related to the country’s “obfuscated” political environment, as well as Malaysia’s top rank in an international study on autocratic work culture by sociologist Geert Hofstede. The latter can be found on Marina’s blog, www.rantingsbymm.blogspot.com

Marina said that while no reason was given for the censorship of her articles, she “sympathised” with her editors’ problems as the situation was sometimes “ridiculous.” 

“There was that Erykah Badu thing and all that, and I don’t blame them for being jumpy,” she said, referring to an incident earlier this year in which two editors from The Star were suspended indefinitely for publishing photos of the American R&B singer with tattoos of the word “Allah” in Arabic on her body. 

She said she and her husband even suspected The Star of censoring comic strip “Zits” as it featured a drawing of a woman with the letter “A” tattooed on her breast. 

“Does that indicate a certain paranoia, or what? Are they afraid of the word ‘breast’, or the word ‘tattoo’? I don’t know.” 

But while she admitted she found the censorship “annoying” and “frustrating”, she said did not intend to quit the news organisation. 

“I’ve been writing there for something like 23 years. I’m a bit sentimental about it. I do know that a lot of people just read me there and nowhere else...so I feel a bit reluctant to just completely stop,” she said.

* This article has been edited to include the name of the Bfm Radio segment and host who interviewed Marina Mahathir.