Err on the side of caution to avoid ill will: Grace Fu
Minister says 'brownface' incident showed need to develop sensitivity
The "brownface" advertisement controversy earlier this year which had a Chinese actor-DJ painting his face brown to depict an Indian man shows a need to err on the side of caution to avoid causing anger and ill will to others, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.
It also shows a need to develop sensitivity in knowing when not to cross the line, she said.
"Does it make people angry, does it cause ill will? If so, I think we should err on the side of caution."
She was speaking to about 300 students at a dialogue on race relations yesterday during the OnePeople.sg Model United Nations opening ceremony at Yishun Innova Junior College.
Into its fifth edition, the OnePeople.sg Model UN is an annual event where young people aged 13 to 20 debate national cultural issues, focusing on racial and religious harmony.
A student from Marsiling Secondary School had asked Ms Fu about the advertising campaign by Nets that showed Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew portraying four characters.
He was also shown dressed as a Malay woman wearing a tudung, and apparently a Chinese man and woman.
The ad sparked public outcry for insensitively portraying Indians and Malays.
Mr Chew, Mediacorp, Nets and creative agency Havas later apologised.
The controversy deepened when YouTube artist Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas posted a parody rap video that attacked the ad with profanities calling out racist ethnic Chinese.
The Government ordered the duo to take down the video and they were later given a conditional warning by the police as the video was deemed to be racist.
The student asked Ms Fu if - in her capacity as a minister - she could tolerate the publication of such ads, and her view on how the Government handled the situation.
Ms Fu said that what Nets was trying to portray was how one card could be used by all people, regardless of their backgrounds.
The incident was a very good example of how societal standards have shifted, she said.
"What was wrong and what was right in the past may not be wrong or right now. And I think we need to make adjustments in order to take into consideration the standard expected from the public," she said.
She added that most of the grassroots leaders and residents, including Indians, she had asked did not take offence to the ad.
But the video in response was "a different question" as it used very foul language.
"If we said, 'Okay, let's not do anything about this' - in the heat of the moment, if a Chinese made a similar rude video about minorities with profanity, what would that do to the relationship between the two races?" she asked.
Asked for his view on the controversy, Catholic Junior College student Pranav Ghosh, 18, said that in such situations, no specific party could be blamed fully.
"I thought public reaction was very divided in the sense that people really felt that one side had to be right and one side had to be wrong," he said.
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