Our industry has always been 'suffering' from the existence of Persatuans or Associations. Of course the granddaddy of associations in our industry is the one called Seniman. It has an illustrious history of having the unique distinction of having once died and resurrected.
Seniman is currently an association made up of professional actors, actresses and others working in the film industry. It's been like that for years.
Then after that other associations started to sprout from nowhere - Persatuan Penerbit Filem Malaysia (PFM), Persatuan Pekerja-pekerja Filem Malaysia (PPFM), Persatuan Artis dan Penyanyi Tanahair (PAPITA), Persatuan Pengarah Filem Malaysia (FDAM), Persatuan Penulis Skrip Malaysia (SWAM), Persatuan Penerbit TV Malaysia (PPTV), Gabungan Persatuan Filem Malaysia (GAFIM), MAHKOTA, KARYAWAN and many more.
Some of these persatuans have been battlegrounds from artists or filmmakers with political ambitions. Some of these persatuans have also been a vehicle for certain parties to enrich themselves through begging and bugging TV stations for projects (supposedly meant to help their members' welfare).
However, has any of these persatuans ever had an agenda to help improve the livelihood and the quality of life in the industry? I doubt it. In fact, I have this sickening feeling that the main activity of these persatuans is to achieve photo opportunity sessions of them giving a few hundred dollars to sick and ailing members in hospital.
Of course they also organise some workshops, but those are too few and too far in between to matter. I mean they needed to be seen as professional societies or associations because FINAS gives them an annual grant to run these associations. I think the amount is RM30,000 each. FINAS also gives some of these 'poverty stricken' associations a container to run their persatuans from.
I do, however, have to plead guilty, for I too had been one of the founder members of the Persatuan Pengarah Filem Malaysia or FDAM (which is an acronym for their English name Film Directors' Association of Malaysia).
I was also president for that association from 1999-2001.
However, I have not been active with the association that I help start since the past few years. This is because it has, in my opinion, diverted from its original vision and mission.
I even hardly use the acronym at the end of my name in any of my productions anymore.
One of the most disgusting activities that most of these persatuans do, that I totally am against and despise, is that most of them demand 'hours' from RTM. It's like that, that is their only credo for existence - the need to get hours from RTM so that they can continue to exist and make money.
There are so many conflicts of interest in this scenario that it makes setting up a persatuan to look into the problems, welfare and education of the industry practitioners and their members a complete sham.
These associations have specific agendas. If it is an association for writers, they should look into writer specific matters. If it is FDAM, the association should concentrate on improving the local film directors' lot including welfare, education and work opportunities.
Now, if they and every 0ther persatuan demand hours from RTM, they become producers. Producers have their own associations - PPTV and PFM. So it is a conflict of interest in my opinion.
Now, in most of the persatuan's constitution, the persatuans are NOT profit making NGOs. Yet, most of the associations seem to pursue commercial ventures to make money.
Fine, I know that one needs funds to run a persatuan professionally but what is the RM30,000 grant from FINAS being used for?
Even if the persatuan gets hours or projects from RTM, who in persatuan gets the direct benefits of the 'conceession'? Is the president of the association going to give away the hours to himself and his cronies or does he have a formula that fairly distributes the earnings to ALL members and not just a selected few?
Personally, I think all persatuans should step back and take a look at themselves. Are they a persatuan or a sdn bhd. If they are a persatuan then they have departed from their original values and agenda.
Persatuans too need to be apolitical and no office bearer should use the persatuan as a platform for their political ambitions.
Now, I just hope that history does not repeat itself. One of the reasons for the demise of the Malay film industry was the mismanagement of the Union that existed then. Imposing wrong strategies against the Shaw management allowed the employers to find reasons to close the studio. In the end MFP close down and Jalan Ampas became no more. I won't divulge here who the president of the Union was at that moment in time. But he is now a very well know veteran filmmaker and celebrity who has received many accolades and decorations.
I also hope that the ex officios of these persatuans are honest professionals. I hope the members will create their own check and balance and select the leaders befitting of their professions. However, I do plead and recommend to members of ALL persatuans that currently exist in the industry to check with the Registrar of Societies the current status of their persatuans as legal entities.
Why? I believe many of the associations have not submitted PROPER and AUDITED accounts of their associations yearly. Members have a right to check the accounts of the associations because they pay their dues as members. So, do not be afraid. Save you associations and check the accounts. You should know where and how the associations' funds are being utilised. And only an independantly audited accounts will give you a clear picture of the association's financial activities.
I am not saying here that all persatuans I mentioned above are not being managed properly. No. I mean it is about time the members do a check and balance and realise that thousands of ringgit has been channeled through these persatuans - by virtue of grants, donations, commercial activities and projects from RTM. As a member, it is your right to know where these monies went to.