New SOPs, a better future for the creative industry

By Mohamad Letfee Ahmad

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — The film and broadcasting practitioners breathed a sigh of relief with the government’s announcement through the National Recovery Plan (PPN) which sees a more relaxed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the creative industry.

The decision based on discussions by the COVID-19 Pandemic Management Special Committee last week will relieve more than a million industry practitioners including artists, stage and technical crew as well as more than 19,000 creative industry-related companies covering the film, broadcasting, advertising, performing arts, music and art industries.

The announcement made by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is considered a long-awaited move by more than 10,000 employees of the film industry, the majority of whom are freelancers, who have been asking for food assistance from the non-governmental and corporate organisations for months.

The fact is that food baskets alone are not sufficient to alleviate the hardships that have befallen them as a result of losing their livelihood for the past three months.

However, the government’s announcement on the relaxation of the ban on filming operations was not accompanied by a complete SOP to ensure film companies and practitioners have clear guidelines on filming procedures required by the National Security Council (NSC).

According to the President of the Film Directors’ Association of Malaysia (FDAM), Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim, the existing SOP is too rigid and restricts the operations of filming activities especially shooting.

He said this was because the appointment of a Filming Protocol Supervisor (PPP) by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) would incur additional cost.

“The PPP could be appointed by the production companies.  They can be anybody from among their employees,” he said.

Ahmad also hopes that the NSC could issue the latest official SOP immediately.

“We have been adopting the SOPs since the first Movement Control Order. We found it very efficient and there was no emergence of COVID-19 clusters among the film practitioners.  FDAM strongly encourages and welcomes the second dose of vaccine  to be taken by all filmmakers so that   safety in the workplace is assured,” he said.

Yet one thing that remains a concern is the ‘non-essential services’ labelled on the creative industry.

Although the creative industry’s contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is only around one percent, it should not be seen as an insignificant industry.

According to the Malaysian Association of Advertising Filmmakers (MAAF), the creative industry which includes commercials production for the cinemas and television stations, local feature films and foreign film production shot in Malaysia has contributed a revenue of RM6.0 billion a year in 2019.

The government’s move to give leeway to other industries is also seen by some creative industry practitioners as unfair

Many argue that the ‘non -essential services’ label placed on the creative industry is not based on economic factors but only on perceptions.

The fact is that not a single COVID-19 cluster has emerged from the film industries although several individuals including actors and crew members were found to be positive.

This could be attributed to the immediate measures by the producers to curb the spread of the virus as soon as the cases were reported.

The ban imposed on the creative industry has also resulted in television stations being dumped with repeat shows.

When there should be more COVID-19 awareness campaigns, we only see a few sub-standard productions due to the stringent guidelines.

The President of the Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM), Pansha in a brief statement hoped that the film business would be back on its feet once the cameras start to roll.

“PFM is very grateful to the government for its effort in reviving the creative industry which has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.   We also hope that all economic recovery funds given by the government will also be well-utilised,” he said.