SINGAPOREAN comedian Najip Ali has been forced to publicly apologise and “beg forgiveness” from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, his viewers and friends.
He has lost his job after being dropped from a Malaysian TV show and has received scathing criticism from the public and politicians alike.
Malaysian Artistes Association (Seniman) president Rozaidi Jamil, popularly known as Zed Zaidi, has threatened to lodge a police report against him if he doesn’t formally apologise to Malaysians and has called for Najip “to be banned from appearing in Malaysian TV shows.”
His crime? Making a joke.
On a segment of lighthearted panel show, OK Chope, Najip and his fellow panelists were asked to fill in the blanks of the headline “Najib slams …. for threatening Malaysia’s progress?”
Answers ranged from the inane to the mildly funny, with one comedian answering “the news”, Najip himself saying “Najib with a B slams Najip with a P”, and my personal favourite, “himself.”
Since the show aired, Najip and the show’s host, Vernetta Lopez, have been forced to apologise in a live telecast, where Najip gallingly claims he has reflected on his “insensitive and callous” comments. He also “wished to apologise unreservedly to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak”.
“I beg his forgiveness and that of my viewers and friends,” Najip says.
The media company responsible, Mediacorp, also offered an apology claiming the show was “in poor taste and offensive.”
The innocuous segment has since been pulled from repeat telecasts and any evidence of it removed from YouTube.
Sadly, it’s just a joke which all stand-up comedians do. Najip Ali apologised. End of story. Sampai nak potong rezeki orang oh zed zaidi 🙄
— Nabilaahhhh (@Nabilaahhhh) April 6, 2017
It even prompted a response from the Malaysian government that claims it “views seriously the offensive comments and insinuations made against the Malaysian leadership and hopes such occurrence will not be repeated.”
One might assume they would be more concerned with certain other “comments and insinuations” being made against the Malaysian leadership in the world media but alas, lighthearted ribbing seems to hit them where it hurts.
This whole incident has been a storm in a tea cup. A diplomatic fallout over hurt feelings.
The only thing it has achieved is to make a relatively small-time TV show the focus of international media and draw millions more viewers to the so-called “offensive” material.
Political satire is booming at the moment, from social media feeds to the TV with Alec Baldwin skewering US President Donald Trump and late-night talk shows making light of the ongoing political nightmare that is America.
It has the ability to expose the absurdities of power we face on a daily basis. The very best satire engages those people who would otherwise have found the world of politics tedious and makes the situation more bearable for those that sense the powerless despair and gravity of the situation.
— MonilSJ (@monilsj) April 6, 2017
Authority attempts to assert itself through a veneer of respectability and seriousness, but satire strips this away, exposing the farce in which we are all unwillingly embroiled. Gone is the legitimacy of those in power and, as they fear, gone may be our subservience.
Ridiculing those in power is sadly a dangerous pursuit in Malaysia and Singapore. Najip has come off fairly lightly compared to others such as Fahmi Reza, who was charged with sedition for a caricature of Najib, or Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque – better known as Zunar – who was arrested numerous times for his political cartoons.
But the Malaysian government and other world leaders should tread lightly when it comes to punishment and rebuttal in these cases of mockery. To strike back against those that indulge in political satire is a big mistake. The powerful attempting to menace the little man that pokes fun at them is the ultimate provocation and ultimately self-defeating.
As has been the case with OK Chope, and Trump’s Saturday Night Live tantrums, all it does is draw attention to the ridicule and expose the thin-skinned and narcissistic nature of those objecting.
Political satire can draw a laugh from an otherwise desperate situation. It can make the mundane entertaining and, at its height, make people engage in the political process and question the way our society is run. It is a bigger part of democracy than perhaps we think and thus, should not be silenced.
As Is Satire Saving Our Nation? author Sophia McClennen says:
“Robust satire is often a sign of crisis and the ability to share and consume it is a sign of a free society.”
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent