The Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (“Content Forum”) has published the Public Consultation on the Communications and Multimedia Content Code Revamp 2021 (“Consultation Paper”) on 24 September 2021 to obtain feedback from the public on the proposed revisions to the existing Content Code (“Content Code”).
First introduced in 2014 and reviewed once in 2020 with minor amendments, the Content Code contains guidelines and procedures for governing standards and best practices for content dissemination within the communications and multimedia industry. The revamped version of the Content Code (“CCR 2021”) seeks to address policy gaps on new content-related issues that have arisen as a result of significant changes in the industry and to provide more comprehensive and holistic guidelines and best practices for the industry while maintaining the principle of self-regulation.
Some of the notable proposed revisions are as follows:
New provisions to address online abuse and gender-based violence
Under the CCR 2021, online abuse and content that incites or provokes any act of abuse and gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering abuse is prohibited.
Protecting the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWD)
The CCR 2021 introduces provisions for code subjects/ service providers to provide reasonable accommodations (as defined in the CCR 2021) to deliver content and information intended for the general public in accessible formats and technologies appropriate for PWD as well as to take reasonable efforts to improve the accessibility of content disseminated for PWD vis-à-vis the implementation of the appropriate access service.
Expanding the scope of coverage of the provisions related to advertisements
The guidelines on advertisement in CCR 2021 are extended to all advertisements communicated over the networked medium including those by online marketplace operators and influencers. There are also provisions on influencer marketing whereby advertisements or marketing communications that include the involvement of third parties (such as influencers) under a commercial arrangement must be clearly disclosed as being done in exchange for payment in cash or some other reciprocal arrangement in lieu of cash in order to ensure that influencer marketing is not used as a tool to mislead consumers. For instance, disclosures should be placed with the endorsement content itself and use an upfront label, such as ‘Advertisement’, ‘Advertisement Feature’, ‘Ad’, ‘Sponsored’ and the like.
Allowing advertisements on intoxicating liquor
While the Content Code generally prohibits the advertisement of alcoholic drinks and liquor, the CCR 2021 permits advertisement on intoxicating liquor communicated over electronic based mediums (excluding broadcast mediums such as television and radio), subject to strict restrictions (with clear provisions governing age, prohibition for Muslims, responsible drinking messages).
Advertisement by a licensed gambling or betting company
It is also proposed that gambling and betting companies are allowed to air public service announcements and corporate social responsibility campaigns provided that the messages are from their charitable arm and do not include any essence of the products or marketing elements such as the original tagline or logo. The CCR 2021 also provides examples/ illustrations of advertisement cases related to gambling products and services.
The use of religion and children in advertisements
The CCR 2021 prohibits the use of religion in any form of advertisements as a general rule. It has been proposed that religion should not be exploited or used to advertise products and/or services, subject to certain exceptions allowed by law such as ‘Halal’ certification and ‘Islamic’ banking.
In relation to the use of children in advertisements, the CCR 2021 provides that such advertisements must not condone or encourage practices that are detrimental to their health and must not portray or represent children in a sexual way either directly or indirectly. The CCR 2021 also contains provisions relating to advertisements targeted to children.
Online service providers
In respect of the Specific Online Guidelines in the CCR 2021, the scope of coverage has been extended to online service providers, covering all content initiated, uploaded, disseminated or made available online in Malaysia, although this expressly excludes Over-the-Top (OTT) content services. It is also proposed that online service providers need to take both reactive and proactive measures with regard to prohibited material or activity.
Apart from the above, the Consultation Paper and CCR 2021 also contain proposed revisions concerning, among other things, indecent content (in particular, allowing content on nudity in certain circumstances), fundamental principles to be adhered to by advertisers when dealing with consumers, removing the list of unacceptable products and services, specific broadcasting guidelines (e.g. introducing a new classification for subscription based broadcasters’ rating mechanism) and complaints handling.
The deadline for providing feedback on the Consultation Paper and CCR 2021 is 9 November 2021.
In this day and age where content is easily created, accessible and disseminated through various forms of media and platforms, content regulation becomes more challenging especially given the rapid development of technology, the internet, and social media. The proposed revisions in the CCR 2021 appear to address some of the gaps and issues emerging from such developments while refining other provisions in the Content Code. For instance, the CCR 2021 has introduced new definitions to adapt to changes in the communications and multimedia content industry e.g. “social media” and “influencer” and even addresses issues such as influencer marketing which has no doubt become a popular method of marketing. The proposed revisions seem to be a welcome change and interested parties are encouraged to provide feedback on the public consultation.