Ben Law is in a pickle. The founder and director of Future Sound Asia recently faced a sudden last-minute cancellation on an event he was spearheading, resulting in millions of ringgit in losses.
Thirst 2015 had already gotten the green light to proceed when the plug was pulled with no clear explanation from authorities over their decision. This happened one day (!) before the event, and this took the entire team by surprise.
Aside from incurring a massive loss, the cancellation has also jeopardized the reputation of his company as an event organiser. But Ben cannot think of all this yet, as there are other pressing matters to attend to, such as coming up with an effective refund policy for all of those who have already purchased tickets.
What happened to Ben could have happened to any organiser.
At the moment, local event organisers and promoters are united under the umbrella of ALIFE (The Arts, Live Festival and Events Association).
The not-for-profit association was created in May last year to represent companies which work with live events. ALIFE wants to be the voice of the live arts industry as well as serve the collective need.
These guys just want things to work out and for everyone to be able go home at the end of the day without having to constantly be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Every cancellation results in monumental losses that could potentially be life-altering.
We’re talking millions of dollars given the scale of most of these things. ALIFE dreams of operating in a world where dialogue and exchange about the industry is encouraged.
The Malaysian live performance industry is one that has seen continuous growth over the years. Helping things along is this year’s tourism campaign which is geared towards festivals.
“The Malaysian government has already acknowledged the significance of live events as one of the national key economic components in tourism,” stated BFM’s Ezra Zaid at a press conference by ALIFE yesterday.
He added that, “the targeted gross national income by 2020 – which is only five years away – is 426.7 million with more than 8000 projected jobs created in that same time”.
Overall, the creative content industry including arts, festivals and events is expected to contribute up to RM30 billion to Malaysia’s economy by 2020.
At the moment, it’s a lot of faffing around trying to bring an act into the country for a live performance. There is a six-step process which involves getting an approval from every party along the way.
In Malaysia there is something called PUSPAL (The Central Agency Committee for Application for Filming and Foreign Artists Presentations, whew). Consisting of the police, the local council, customs and immigration, MOTAC (Ministry of Tourism and Culture) and JAKIM (The Malaysian Islamic Development Department), PUSPAL collectively decides which live act gets into the country, among other tasks.
All these bodies within PUSPAL are responsible for the approval or cancellation of your event. And they get to do so whenever they get cold feet, even if they feel like having cold feet 10 minutes before your event.
Bizarrely, there are no representatives from the arts in the committee. To some extent you’re probably right in thinking that all these decisions regarding the arts are being made by people who don’t really understand what it is they’re trying to evaluate.
This poses a huge problem and ALIFE hopes to change this by having a representative on the board as well.
The Big Resolution?
ALIFE wants there to be a one-stop centre for approval of live events, because PUSPAL has failed to provide just that.
In its proposal, ALIFE requests for a separation of tasks and for a more relevant matching of authority to responsibility.
For example, ALIFE wants MOTAC, immigration and the local council to only focus on the artists and the crew involved in a performance, whereas police and the local council should be concerned about security, medical plans and risk management, to state a few.
Among other things proposed by ALIFE is a simplified rating system to regulate content that is promoted to the public.
In hindsight, ALIFE isn’t asking for much; they just want standard operating procedures and for all parties to work together in a more efficient manner. What happened to Ben cannot happen again.
Post/Script: Future Action
President of ALIFE, Datuk Razlan Razali, is one of the many people lobbying for the new solution to be accepted.
“Last minute event cancellations in Malaysia has happened one too many times with no factual basis, no transparency, a lack of understanding of the industry by current decision makers, and no proper engagement with the organisers,” states Datuk Razlan.
“As a result, our members have been left with a negative public image, huge financial losses, and on a bigger perspective, the perception of the Malaysia brand internationally has suffered.”
The proposed changes to the permit application process by ALIFE, Datuk Razlan says, allows the organisers to be a part of the decision making process and forces event promoters to ensure that proper standard-operating procedures are executed and followed through when organizing an event.
“Our point here today is this – let the industry be a part of the decision making process because we believe that Malaysians know how to differentiate and decide for themselves what content they want to consume. It is also their right to do so.”
“Malaysians today, particularly the youth are smarter and more exposed and I highly doubt that going to a concert will sway them away from their religion or their belief,” Datuk Razlan concludes.
Well here’s to the future sound of the country, God help us.