Police probing vulgar video response to ‘brownface’ ad
Ad was distasteful but video crossed the line by attacking another race, says Shanmugam
A rap video made in response to a racially insensitive advertisement crossed the line by attacking Chinese Singaporeans with vulgar language and gestures, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
The three-minute clip features local YouTube entertainer Preetipls, whose real name is Preeti Nair, and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair.
It takes aim at an ad campaign featuring Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew, who portrayed characters of other races by wearing a tudung and darkening his skin.
The police said yesterday they are investigating the case after a police report was made.
Mr Shanmugam later told reporters he takes a zero tolerance approach, and the Government will not allow such attacks.
He said: "When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say, not acceptable.
"It is not a defence to say I did it in response to something that I didn't like. If (it was) something you didn't like, you ask for an apology. If you think it is criminal, you make a police report. You don't cross the line yourself.
"When you put out statements that wound racial, religious feelings, that is an offence in Singapore."
The New Paper understands the case is being investigated under Section 298 of the Penal Code, which covers uttering words with the deliberate intent to wound racial feelings.
Offenders can be fined, jailed for up to three years, or both.
The video, which received more than 1,000 likes and 100 comments after it was posted on Monday evening, was taken down from various social media platforms at about 6pm yesterday after the siblings complied with a notice issued by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).
An IMDA spokesman said the video constitutes prohibited content under the Internet Code of Practice, and is objectionable on grounds of public interest and national harmony.
Mr Shanmugam said people may question why the Government is taking this so seriously, but countered that if the video was allowed, then others would have to be allowed as well.
He said: "What do you think will happen to our racial harmony, social fabric? How will people look at each other?"
Addressing the offending ad, Mr Shanmugam said he has been advised by lawyers that it is not a criminal offence.
"Thirty years ago, people would have said poor taste, passe. Today, I think (the ad) is worse than that... You have a Chinese brown out the face and pass off as Indian or Malay. There is going be a lot of distaste."
He added: "I think there are lessons to be drawn by everyone who was involved... We all have to treat each other with respect, with courtesy."
The ad campaign, which included physical banners, fliers and online images, was to promote a unified e-payment system for hawker stalls implemented by Nets and led by Enterprise Singapore, the National Environment Agency, the Housing Board and JTC Corporation.
On Sunday, the agency behind the ad, Havas Worldwide, issued a joint statement with Mediacorp's celebrity management arm, The Celebrity Agency, to apologise for unintentionally causing hurt.
The director of the Centre for Interfaith Understanding, Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, said the ad could be seen as making caricatures of certain races, but he agreed with Mr Shanmugam that the rap video had crossed the line.
Calling for more intercultural literacy across all levels of society, Mr Imran said: "We can expect people to be angry sometimes, but instead of being reactionary, be calm and educate wider society on what is and isn't acceptable."
Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said some might feel the video was justified and had to be provocative to raise awareness. But he felt it was an over-reaction and can lead to a downward spiral.
"We cannot imagine a racially harmonious Singapore where people periodically use the media to explicitly say demeaning things or mock an entire ethnic community, even if they have in some way felt injured."
Other politicians also weighed in via Facebook posts.
Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad said the ad was disrespectful, but the video response was "totally offensive and uncalled for".
Chairman of racial harmony advocacy group OnePeople.sg Janil Puthucheary said he found both the ad and video unacceptable. He wrote: "Seriously people, it's 2019."