Freedom Of Speech Through Satires: To What Extent The Concept Of Morality Applies?

Satire can be defined as a work (prose or poetry) that aims to make fun of people and others. However, throughout the time, satire has existed in the form of caricatures, graphics, films, memes and so on. In Malaysia, satirical works have existed since the 1930s which have finally grown rapidly until today. The work of satire is one of the great arts and has evolved in line with the time. A work full of sarcasm, satire and humour is able to reach the soul of the community even if it is not exaggerated. So, it is not surprising that the old Malay movies directed by the great artist, the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee still remain relevant to this day because of his satirical works through his films which are loaded with funny and soft elements, but more than enough to slap not only the reality of his past, even today.

In addition, there is also the writing of a satirical novel Kawin-Kawin by Azizi Haji Abdullah which is loaded with social criticism towards the Malay community where he touches on the issue of men being given an advantage in terms of power and control of legal agreements in mut’ah contracts while women only become object of sexual pleasure for men. Next, the film directed by the late Mamat Khalid which is 16 Puasa which strongly criticizes politicians who are full of corruption and immoral human behaviour as well as satirical graphics produced by Fahmi Reza which contains strong criticism of social and political in Malaysia. For them, the production of satirical works through films, writing, graphics and so on, is one of the channels to practice their right to freedom of speech and expression as provided under the Federal Constitution. However, the question that often arises is, to what extent is the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the law and morality?

According to Lord Devlin, the moral yardstick of a society depends on the way a reasonable or sane person looks at something and considers it moral or immoral. Even so, Devlin’s opinion is strongly opposed by Professor HLA Hart because he thinks that if a person is immoral in a certain matter, he is considered immoral in other aspects of his life. In contradiction to Hart’s opinion, the Wolfenden Committee recommends the position of individual freedom of the criminal law. They stated that in circumstances where one person does not practice morality or being immoral, does not mean he is immoral as a whole human being considering factors being exploited; immature, mentally disabled or poor. This has been said that, from the Wolfenden Committee’s opinion, the author believes that, due to the urgency of the society’s current situation that being exploited by certain circumstances, they cannot be said to be immoral as a whole. However, this principle was against Devlin where he disagreed with the Wolfenden Committee. He believed with shared morality where the moral decay of society is the result of the moral decay of members of society.

By looking back at these principles, the author does not agree with Hart’s view because, is the good initial action and intention by the artists to allow the community to think for a moment about the social and political situation happening around them is also considered as immoral? And at the same time causing these artists also to not practice moral concepts in other aspects of their lives? Moreover, in the author’s opinion, the satirical works done by one of the famous satirists in Malaysia, Fahmi Reza, where he produced satirical graphics to comment about the corruption occurring among the politicians, especially, cannot be said as one of the causes of immoral society because by producing satirical works, it is one of the ways to practice his freedom of speech and allow a check and balance process in our country. Is his initial good intention to convey his message to the public contributing to the immorality of society?

After all, it comes back to the earliest principle set down by Devlin. By applying it, as long as a satirical work is considered moral and has a good message to convey to the public, then it should be allowed by law. However, in certain circumstances where the satirical works contain controversial graphics or wordings that touch the crux of Article 10(4) of Federal Constitution, “…of any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III, article 152, 153 or 181”. Therefore, it is necessary to be banned.

In essence, the authors do not deny an individual’s right to freedom of speech or expression in producing satirical works, however, it must move in line with existing legal provisions and not violate the moral principles set by Devlin. The author also thinks that satirical work is one of the arts that should be valued and defended because it is a symbol of the majesty of Malay art in inserting remarks and criticism in a subtle and gentle way.

(This article is authored by Aini Nazira Mohd Niros and co-authored by Dr. Nabeel Althabhawi and does not necessarily represent the view of Solidaritas)