Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stopover at Malaysiakini: Of Banned Comics and the 'Hanya Kartun 'Ja' Approach.

Sometimes, living where I do at the present, it's easy to forget that despite all its modernity, Malaysia is still a country run by people who cling on to archaic laws when it comes to press freedom. I stay out of politics mostly, really, but sometimes reminders of this still hits home hard when it rears its ugly head.

Here's some background: There is this thing called the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) which has been in place in Malaysia for as long as I can remember. Our press and media has always been controlled, which is probably why when it became available, Malaysians pretty much took to the web like ducks to water.

However, the transition from web freedom to print freedom still doesn't do so well sometimes. Case in point: Zunar, a Malaysian cartoonist who produces political comics for the online newsite, recently found his books of the same work on the wrong side of the PPPA's ban-wagon.

I have never written a review of Zunar's political comics, but for the time being let's just state first and foremost that I am not a big fan of them.

No doubt he is courageous to come up with what he draws, and openly, but from a comic reader's standpoint, I find most of his political caricatures have the subtlety of a cement trunk driving through a shopping mall. Not exactly to my taste, I like my comics less anvilicious. You know the phrase, "Show, don't Tell" and all that.

Of course, this is my preference, and it doesn't seem to matter for his target audience. Malaysiakini is purportedly an unbiased news site, but it cannot be denied that the majority of its reader base are anti-ruling party. So as long as his comics are critical towards the ruling party, there will be a fanbase who will like it irregardless.

Everyone is entitled to like what they like, of course. But the PPPA (and the people who control it) evidently do not think so. And so... they ban it. With the following reason:

”The contents are not suitable and [are] detrimental to public order."

And then to make it worse there's the whole sedition charge thing.

This a comics/travel/whatever I feel like blog, but one thing it is not is a political blog, so I will not go into detail on what should be obvious (how ridiculous this is), but I will say this really brings to mind of another work of literature/art that was potentially "detrimental to public order".

A couple of years ago, the literature section of a local Malay newspooaper, Utusan Melayu, published a short story called "YB Josephine". I read the thing, it was a "story" of how a "heroic matryr" assassinates a "totally fictional" member of parliament whose description suspiciously resembles an actual member of parliament (opposition side) the paper greatly disliked.

There was a great hoo haah over that back then, but in the end, no action was taken against the paper or the writer of the story as it was all "fictional". The going excuse was "Hanya sastera 'ja" (translation: "It's just literature").

While I may not like Zunar's work, I do believe in press freedom and his right to publish those comics (and retain his freedom after publishing them too). But I'm too much of a realist to expect the PPPA to go away any time soon. Many many things will have to change before that happens. (FYI, any political party who will agree to repeal the PPPA and the Sedition Act gets my vote in the coming elections).

But all for the tragedy, there is a lesson to be learnt here.

A precedence has been set.

As someone might say in the future: "Hanya Kartun 'Ja"


  1. LOL. It's to be expected. The people are "hanya rakyat 'ja" to the big wigs anyways.

  2. I'm not entirely sure that this is the proper forum for this, and if not I apologize, but I was wondering if this site is still updating. It's been most of a year since the last post. Should I still hold out hope that this blog, and by extension The Longest Sojourn, may yet return some day?

  3. Yes it may ;) I am on a long break, but let's see if things change soon.

    As for The Longest Sojourn, I do want to finish the thing, but I am looking to shift it to a different site with all my works consolidated. Just need to figure out how to do that.