Malaysia Officially Bans Outdoor Photography

In the updated "SOP" on what is allowed and prohibited during the next tightened Movement Control Order (MCO as the government calls it, or what we locals refer to as semi-lockdown), an interesting item is added in the prohibited list - outdoor photography. I am not here to question the judgement of the officials or challenge the authorities, but this new statement changes things, and I want to discuss it here. I am a photographer that earns a bulk of his income from shooting outdoor, and even my content creation was mostly done outside. 

The full list of updated SOP items, go to the bottom right you will see outdoor photography is now banned. 

Previously, the statement was "public filming not allowed", meaning cinematographers or filmmakers need to record their video in an indoor environment, like a studio. Nothing was mentioned on photography, but being cautious and not wanting to set a precedent to bad things happening to the photographers crowd, I have refrained from doing any street photography, or any outdoor photography at all since the beginning of this MCO 3.0 on 7 May 2021 (technically, 7 May was the start date for Kuala Lumpur residents, but the nationwide partial lockdown began on 12 May onward). I did however go out with my cameras of course, not actively hunting for photos, since I am a photographer, I carry my camera everywhere with me (if you don't, you call yourself a photographer?), and I will steal a few shots there and here when I see the opportunity. It was different back then, because there was no specific rule saying photography is not allowed. As long as I am not wielding the camera, walking around aimlessly, I should be fine, since chances of being caught is very low. I will take out the camera when I see something that caught my attention, take a quick shot, and the camera goes back into the bag after that instantly. I am playing very, very safe, but I cannot deny the photographer in me who wants to have some shutter action. The fingers do get itchy. 

Now the rules have changed so drastically. It is said outright - clear and bold - outdoor photography is prohibited. 

That means, you cannot go to the road side with your camera for that sunset shot over the urban skyline. You will be fined, possibly up to RM10,000 (USD2,500). Man, you can afford a brand new E-M1 Mark III with that kind of money, with some change. You cannot just bring out your super telephoto lens and catch some birds at your neighborhood trees. You want to go out your house just because you hear that rare bird calling? You might get sent to prison on the spot if you get caught. You want to walk around with the camera hanging around your neck just in case you spot some interesting moments on the street? Be prepared to be stopped and questioned by the police. Good luck in explaining your reasons. The police or the army should they choose to mobilize, are only doing their jobs and following orders. They see you with a camera, you are doomed. 

I have never been so afraid being a photographer. What have I done wrong to deserve this?

Before someone starts asking me to go to the police and seek special permission to "work" as a photographer, forget it. Now that it is a national law, by the National Security Council, you think the police will make an exception so easily? I'd get higher chance of being struck by the lightning in a thunderstorm. 

I fail to see how the camera comes into the equation, and how photographers are being banned. If you say, no social gathering, that is fine. Or no two people should walk together, or no crowd is allowed, that is perfectly understood. But people get together with or without a camera. Just because there is a camera does not mean there is a crowd. Photographers like myself shoot alone 99% of the time. I do my YouTube videos, filming myself alone. I am a one man crew. I have no one to infect, and there is no one to infect me. Just because I have a camera, and I do photography outside, what danger do I pose? How am I a threat? You see, we all play our parts and do the best we can in terms of social distancing and prevention, but now that the government themselves put a formal ban on photographers, I just feel so attacked somehow. Like I have done something wrong, being punished for no reason. 

Before anyone starts giving me ideas to shoot photography indoors, just don't. You are not helping. Keep your ideas to yourself and do it privately. In case you are not aware, I have been around for more than 10 years, sharing photography consistently and frequently, uploading fresh content without fail. I am not lacking ideas. That is NOT the problem. The problem is the government puts an official ban on me and restricts my right to use my camera. I don't see how that is fair, but who am I to say anything? I am just a nobody. 
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  1. It seems pretty arbitrary to ban "outdoor photography" given that you can pursue that activity in a bunch of different ways that don't compare to "picnicking" - which is hanging around, potentially in groups, eating and drinking, albeit outside (normally, although it would probably be a bit too warm for me to do that in most of Malaysia) - or whatever goes on in a "wellness centre".

    One might almost imagine that there is another agenda here, although it could just be frustration at selfie-takers congregating in various hotspots, to the disdain of anxious civil servants.

    I find it slightly amusing that civil servants are banned from "loitering at shopping malls during working hours" and what is effectively moonlighting. Alongside the other, relatively mild measures (apart from the photography bit), it sounds like someone has an axe to grind and will be looking to thin out the civil service in the near future.

    Personally, I've taken far fewer pictures out and about over the last year, although my livelihood doesn't depend on photography. A big reason for that has been to stay out of the way, focus on what I need to do, and to let those who need to be out have the space. Essential workers and people with children are the first that come to mind.

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of other people who will gladly just "expand into" this newly vacated space. And there are others who will be incentivised to do so, like the people where I live who were effectively loitering in supermarkets scanning all the prices. I took some satisfaction that the supermarkets were then all fined for operating a pricing cartel...

    Anyway, stay safe and hold out, Robin!

    1. My thoughts exactly, Paul. Banning photography specifically won't improve the situation, or stop the virus from spreading. What logic is this?
      As you mentioned, the measures are questionable. Oh well, what can we do, but just to follow and obey. Else, hefty fine or prison time.

  2. So sorry, Robin. I can't begin to imagine living under conditions (or a government) like this. Good luck with it all.

  3. Sounds like the opposite of the USA on steroids. I'd be the wise guy to get into trouble by doing it anyway since no modern camera uses film. I'd just not use my film cameras. I fully understand obeying the rules, especially relating to the corona virus, but going overboard is not a way to gain cooperation to lock-down. We were to wear masks indoors and out. Most of us never heard or read the rule about wearing masks outside. It was not even mentioned on radio or TV news, only the indoor restrictions. Well, now we are reopening. Vaccines are really helping. Hopefully it will not be long before your restrictions are lifted.

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