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New film classification rules in Malaysia clearly identify the country’s Censorship Board (LPF) as an executive tool of government. And women must cover up.

New rules published on June 23 – and effective from June 15 – say that local films with scenes and dialogue which “mock, belittle, criticise the government and the country’s national sensitivities” will not be allowed on television. Nor will shows that “tarnish the government’s image.”

“We really can’t allow that, because it involves our image. It can bring a bad image for the government, so we avoid this,” LPF chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid told The Malaysian Insider. He added: “Such scenes will definitely be censored, there is no avoiding it. Because we have our people in the television stations doing the censorship.”

The LPF said that rules are a clarification of regulations introduced in 2010, rather than a new austerity. The full 10-point set of codifications cover sex, explicit, immoral behaviour; superstition; smoking, drinking, drugs; character-assassination; appropriateness of clothing; indecent behaviour; violence/cruelty/graphic images; politics; horror/mystery/frightening content; and law and government integrity.

Specifically, the code outlaws men with rings and tattoos; scenes against cultural norms including suicides and cross dressing; and violence. Women may not be shown “wearing form-fitting clothes, clothes that reveal the shape of their breasts, privates, thighs, buttocks, and underwear (except for Indian women in saris)”.

The country, which has three main ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian) operates numerous policies including those on education and employment that positively discriminate in favour of only one group. The new censorship rules apply only to local Malay films on television.

Critics say that this is unfair to film-makers from the Muslim majority and defeats the government’s policy of portraying the country as one nation, rather than as ethnically defined communities. One commentator joked that the new rules were intended to bore Malaysia’s TV audiences into watching foreign content.

One woman who is not joking is director Erma Fatima who cancelled the airing of her film “Message From God” (“Pesan Dari Tuhan”) on the TV3 channel. The LPF said it was politically sensitive and sought 30 to 50 cuts before the film would be allowed to screen. The director chose not to make the required edits.