Malaysia movie censors ease up, but scorn bikinis

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia's censors have loosened decades of restrictions on sexual and religious content in movies, but are still keeping a tight leash on tiny bikinis, kisses and passionate hugs on screen.

The guidelines - made public on the Home Ministry's Web site this week - are meant to "ensure the creativity of filmmakers is not blocked," with the caveat that "extremely negative elements" should remain off-limits, the ministry's secretary general, Mahmood Adam, said in a statement.

The state-run Film Censorship Board has long faced criticism for snipping off scenes considered too racy and banning some movies altogether. Several Hollywood films banned last year include Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno," which the board said promoted homosexuality because it centered on a flamboyant gay fashion journalist.

The new censorship guidelines stress that "adults should be free to choose whatever material they wish to watch, as long as the material is legitimate in terms of the law and does not have the potential to cause harm."

Previously, all profanities and scenes of amorous kisses were excised, but the new rules suggest that censors would only remove them if they were overly explicit, such as involving nudity.

The new rules list dozens of elements that might be objectionable, but indicates a movie containing them might not necessarily be prohibited. In another departure from previous guidelines, it notes that curse words might be allowed based on whether they are "appropriate in the context of a film."

Religious sensitivities in this Muslim-majority country take up a chunk of the guidelines, which discourage scenes of Muslims drinking alcohol, gambling and becoming involved in vice.

Muslims could not be shown consuming alcohol and gambling earlier, but the new guidelines state that it would be permissible if the filmmaker wants to "depict a person's transformation from being evil to good."

Also, depictions of Muslims who convert to other religions should not "highlight the benefits (of the act) without showing its bad consequences."

Sex scenes, including "homosexuality and unnatural sex," remain discouraged, extending to "erotic voices" and kissing on "body parts that could arouse sex, including the neck, chest and ears." Women should not wear "bikinis that are too tiny and tight," according to the guidelines.

Passionate hugs between men and women or gay people are also discouraged.

Movies that should be promoted include those highlighting virtues such as respect for God, honesty, courage and environmental preservation, according to the guidelines formulated by authorities following talks with film industry professionals and newspaper critics. The last revamp of the censorship rules was in 1993.