NOV 8, 2003 SAT

KL bans books on fantasy and horror

There are no clear guidelines, but Home Ministry's decision said to target Malay and Chinese books with superstitious elements

By Leslie Lau

STEPHEN King and the wildly popular Harry Potter books are acceptable, but the Malaysian government has banned other books containing elements of mysticism, fantasy and superstition.
The move, which appears to target mainly Malay and Chinese publications flooding the market, follows steps in recent months to stop or limit the airing of Malay television programmes featuring supernatural elements.
There are no clear guidelines, but Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung said books that do not 'give children nightmares' will be allowed.
Book importers in the dark here are unhappy because the latest action can cover most horror and fantasy books.
'It is very vague. There are books with chapters dealing in ghostly areas. Do we have to check every book brought in?' said the president of the Malaysian Book Exporters and Importers Association, Mr Kevin Sugumaran.
A Home Ministry official told The Straits Times that the ban covered mainly Malay and Chinese books.
He explained the government's concern: Many of these 'entertain by frightening' publications are particularly popular with the younger generation, who may be unduly influenced by 'negative elements'.
Some English-language books with too many of these elements may also be banned, he said.
Publishers want the government to state clearly which books and publications will not be allowed into Malaysia.
'We need more clarification. We want to know what the Deputy Minister means by ghostly tales,' said the president of the Malaysian Book Publishers Association, Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan.
Datuk Chor said earlier on Thursday that books by horror writer Stephen King are permissible as they are written for adults.
'It is OK because his stories have been around for a long time,' he said.
'It is those local superstition stories like the man cycling home and meeting a beautiful ghost from the graveyard. That has no educational value.'
He also singled out the Harry Potter and Goosebumps series as types of 'OK' books.
But he did not mention if popular books on local ghost stories from Singapore would be allowed.
He said: 'We have come across many applications where they want to import or publish stuff on haunted houses or superstitious stories.
'When you read them, you can feel goosebumps.'
Promising that his ministry will look at all books on a case-by-case basis, he said publishers should get advice from his ministry.
Earlier this year, the government also tried to stop the airing of the popular Pelik Tapi Benar (Strange But True) television programme.
The programme, shown on RTM, was suspended temporarily because it apparently featured stories with elements dismissed by the government as 'nonsense' and 'superstition'.
The suspension was later lifted after complaints from viewers and a commitment from the producer to tone down the 'negative elements'.