Banning and Censorship of Beauty and The Beast in Malaysia: An Analysis on News Values and News Frames.
This article analyses the news reports on the banning and censorship of movie Beauty and The Beast in Malaysia. In order to analyse the news reports, four articles from different media outlets had been selected to compare and contrast the news representation. The articles that had been chosen are the one by Malaysia’s The Star (Malaysia’s neutral newspaper), the UK’s Daily Mail and The Independent (to compare the news reports taken from a newswire and the one with author’s by-line) and a news report by Bloomberg (the first foreign media to report this issue). All these media outlets report news on banning and censorship of Beauty and The Beast as it sparks controversies among Muslim majority Malaysians due to its gay scene. That ‘gay moment’ has raised concerns among the public as it is inappropriate for children viewing and it is also claimed to promote negative values where homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Malaysia under both religious and secular laws. In the movie, the character Le Fou played by Josh Gad was seen to be confused about his sexuality. Following this issue, Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board had requested the ‘gay moment’ scene to be cut, making it suitable for Malaysian viewers, especially children below the age of 13. The main purpose of this analysis is to study the way journalists frame censorship news. Throughout the analysis, the frames and values have been highlighted together with explanations of what makes the frames to be newsworthy.
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First, all four news articles framed Beauty and The Beast as the ‘gay moment’. According to Lupton (2006), event or issues that are considered to have news value or to be newsworthy are indicative of a bigger concern of society. This suggests that in order to select a news frame, the news angle itself has to be newsworthy. Similarly, Gamson and Modigliani (1989) believe that news framing is a media process of highlighting an issue which also could be perceived as “to give meaning to an issue. With regards to Beauty and The Beast defined as the ‘gay moment’, it sparks a huge debate in Malaysia as media censorship also does not only apply to print and online media but it also bans songs and movies that insult Islam as religion of the constitution, as well as those that encourage acceptance of gay. In an article by The Independent, Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid described ‘gay moment’ as unsuitable because many children will be watching this movie despite its very short scene of 4.30 minutes and rated PG 13, indicating some content might be appropriate for pre-teens. According to Wan Mahmud (2007) among elements that are forbidden include contradicting Islamic rules (fatwa) by the State Islamic Councils as wells as those that endanger Malaysian norms and values. Contradictory, an article by Daily Mail portrays that the film’s director Bill Condon had a very different view as he claims that this is Disney’s “first exclusive gay moment”. Entman (1991) clarifies that framing is measured by a few aspects such as moral judgements, cultural values and what forces create the problem. The different ways of news framing suggest that the way media framed news is to shape what the public should read instead of what the public should know. Goffman (1974) suggests that frame is perceived as the cognitive patterns or maps where the media use to emphasise and render information into a series of newsworthy events. This also suggests that journalists are dependent on frames to select what to include in a story and what should be eliminated. At the same time, as Islam is the religion of the constitution in Malaysia, news on banning or movie censorship has always been closely related to local customs and culture. Yopp and McAdams, 2003) suggests that when selecting stories, journalists and editors are drawn one or more of the following criteria: i) timeliness, ii) prominence, iii) emotional effect, iv) magnitude v) oddity, vi) proximity vii) impact, vii) conflict. This suggests that media practitioners must strive to report and to package news according to the values and with regards to this issue, it involves proximity, emotional effect and conflict.
Not just that, journalists also use news frame to present human interest story. By analysing the news articles, three foreign news outlet emphasised about Malaysia’s law on homosexuality or gay behaviour in their news reports. In Bloomberg, Daily Mail and The Independent, homosexuality is defined as a criminal offence. Caudill and Ashdown (1989) suggest that uncommon, up-to-date, provocative or affects a large scale of people is most likely to receive coverage by the media. Dunwoody and Griffin (1990) suggests that journalist could gain readership by creating controversy between two or more standpoints. In this issue of banning Beauty and the Beast, religious view and punishment towards homosexuality could be perceived as the standpoints that make the news controversial. This also suggests that journalists will look for anything with the human angle when they have to decide that to write a news report. Goffman (1974) suggests that frame is perceived as the cognitive patterns or maps where the media use to emphasise and render information into a series of newsworthy events. For example, Daily Mail, Bloomberg and the Independent clearly mentioned that homosexuality in Malaysia would lead to fine, imprisonment and corporal punishment. Nevertheless, Nik Hassan (2007) argues as news frame also suggests treatments for the issue, offers remedies and predicts the likely effect rather than just raising anxiety to public. This is different compared to the local media (The Star) which only reports about the consequences and solution for the issue. In The Star news report, its report is solely on the possible delay for Beauty and The Beast screening, also the consequence that the movie might be pulled out of Malaysian cinema due to Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board request to cut the gay scene. Consequently, the way media frame news is crucial as they are capable of influencing the public’s belief and also to determine the final resolution of public’s concern. This is supported by Entman (2007) he suggests news frames are designed to make target audience think, feel and decide in a specific way. Not just that, Dixon and Clarke (2003) believe that controversial reports actively shape the way readers understand the issue. Despite the traditional news values and frames that are already embedded in their routine, some journalists construct news differently from its nature.
On the other hand, Daily Mail (by AFP) cited senior mufti for Malaysia’s northern Perak state Harussani Zakaria, saying that the Western behaviour has gone awry that Malaysian should guard themselves thus, the movie must be banned. This is surprisingly different from Bloomberg, The Star and The Independent as none of these media outlet cited a religion expert in their news report. Myrick (2002) suggests by including diverse viewpoints, journalists could achieve fairness and balance, avoiding distortion by personal feelings and prejudices. With regards to news value and frame, Kiousis (2004) claim that this has to do with the idea that more visible and will be more prominent on public’s mind. It is also vital to note that different parties compete to shape the frame of a news story. Moreover, by framing Beauty and The Beast as ‘the negative behaviour of the society”, it does meet the standards of newsworthiness such as emotional effect and conflict. For a Muslim majority Malaysians, the press desire to publish sensational stories to attract readership is fulfilled hence the focus on controversy, drama, human interest and brevity. Nik Hassan (2007) claims that to present news with human interest value, journalist use framing to package the idea, make sense of it and suggest the issue to the public who rely on mediated news for information. On the other hand, all three foreign media reports were merely focusing on the banning of Beauty and The Beast as ‘the gay moment’ and Malaysia’s law against homosexuality rather that educating and informing the public about media censorship in the country. This suggests that the words ‘homosexual’ and ‘gay’ play a major role in shaping a news story. Correspondingly, Entman (2007) claims that media framing involves section that highlights certain criteria of an issue to promote salience among the public. Thus, this also proposes that the media has successfully selected the frame of the issue by highlighting a few words that trigger the public’s attention and emotion.
In the nutshell, every media outlet has its own agenda by the way it frames and selects the story where the main news frame is Beauty and The Beast defined as ‘the negative behaviour of the society’. Similarly, Maher (2001) claims framing and agenda setting are related that they emphasis on the selection of ideas or criteria in a news coverage to promote its message to the public. By analysing all four articles, it can be concluded that all foreign media articles emphasised on the word ‘gay’ in their news articles. The Independent and Bloomberg, for example, had the word ‘gay’ in the title itself which surely catches readers’ attention. Compared to Daily Mail and The Star, the titles for these two articles are rather neutral and did not come out with anything controversial. Furthermore, Bloomberg, The Independent and Daily Mail had the word ‘gay moment’ at the lead paragraph which suggest that all these media outlets perceived the word to has its own newsworthiness that it also define the concept of the movie despite its very short scene. As mentioned, news frames are from time to time tied to agenda setting in exploring how a certain issue become the focus of media, public attention and policy change (McKeever, 2013). By evaluating the content that makes the news, this analysis helps to determine which frames and news value might be the most effective in making the story newsworthy and marketable.
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