Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rap video criticising ‘brownface’ ad crossed the line by attacking Singaporean Chinese: Shanmugam

By Faris Mokhtar

In response to a video by rapper Subhas Nair and YouTuber Preeti Nair, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that it is not acceptable to use four-letter words and vulgar language to attack another race and put it out in public.


30 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — A rap video, which called out a racially offensive advertisement, crossed the line because it contained vulgarities directed at Singaporean Chinese and could turn minorities against the majority community, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

His comments came on Tuesday (July 30) after it emerged that the police were investigating the video.

He added that the Info-communications Media Development Authority has also asked Facebook to take down the three-minute video by Singapore rapper Subhas Nair and YouTuber Preeti Nair, who goes by the username Preetipls.

It was understood that the video was taken down at about 5.45pm.

In an interview with the media, soon after police said a report had been made against the video for its “offensive content”, Mr Shanmugam 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’.” 

TODAY understands that the police are investigating the case under Section 298 of the Penal Code, which covers uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious or racial feelings of any individual. It carries a punishment of up to three years in prison, or a fine, or both.

“This rap video insults Chinese Singaporeans and uses four letter words on Chinese Singaporeans, vulgar gestures — pointing of middle fingers — to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans," Mr Shanmugam said.

He said that questions might be raised as to why the authorities are taking the video so seriously, as some might argue that it was unlikely to trigger violence. Others might also laugh it off, he added.

“Maybe so, but think of it as: If we allow this, then we have to allow other videos. There can be then hundreds of such videos. You allow one, you have to allow a hundred. What do you think will happen to our racial harmony, social fabric; how will people look at each other?” he asked.

"And suppose you allow this video, let’s say a Chinese now does a video attacking Indians, Malays using four-letter words, vulgar gestures, same kind of videos, and let’s say there are hundreds or thousands of such videos, how do you think the Indians and the Malays will feel? Would people feel safe? Would the minorities feel safe?"

He added: “We will not allow it, not this Government. When you put out statements that wound racial, religious feelings, that’s an offence in Singapore. I’ve asked the police to investigate, we cannot allow these sorts of attacks.”

It is not a defence, Mr Shanmugam said, to say that the video was made in response to “something that I didn’t like”.

“Something that you didn’t like, then you ask for an apology. If you think it is criminal, you make a police report. You don’t yourself cross the line.”

The controversy was sparked by an advertisement for Singapore electronic payments provider Nets, which had engaged Havas Worldwide as its creative agency for a publicity campaign for E-Pay. Havas, in turn, engaged artiste Dennis Chew, who is with Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm The Celebrity Agency, as the face of the campaign.

In the ad, Mr Chew is dressed up as four characters, including a Malay woman wearing a traditional headdress and an Indian man. To portray these characters, Mr Chew’s skin was made up to look darker.

[From another report:
"...Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign. He appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay,” the statement said.
Comment on facebook relating to above:
Not said in the statement: "It is cheaper to hire ONE actor to play 4 different characters than to find FOUR actors to play all the roles. We're not RACIST! We're just CHEAP! (Also Dennis accepts e-payment..)"

Ms Preeti and Mr Subhas then posted their video on Monday morning, in which they take turns to criticise the ad for its use of "brownface", racial discrimination and lack of real minority representation.

Speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Law, Mr Shanmugam also criticised the advertisement as distasteful.

“You need the cultural sensitivity. You have a Chinese brown out the face and pass off as an Indian or Malay. There’s going to be a lot of distaste.”

There are good reasons why Singapore is different, he stressed. Chief among them is the existence of racial harmony here, which allows all races, including minorities, to feel safe, Mr Shanmugam said. “And we must maintain that. We will maintain that,” he added.

Asked whether action could be taken against those responsible for the advertisement, Mr Shanmugam said that he had consulted lawyers, who told him that there is no criminal offence involved.

Responding to whether the majority Chinese ought to be more racially sensitive, Mr Shanmugam said that “all will have to be racially sensitive — majority as well as minority”.

“It is in fact in the interests of the minorities to be sensitive as well. Because if you attack, you must expect counter attacks. For us, the law applies equally whether you’re a majority or minority.

He continued: “We all have to treat each other with respect, with courtesy, so that we create a better environment for everyone. So, it behoves the majority, it behoves the minority, everyone to be sensitive and sensible.”

[This is one of those incidents that may strike those from a more liberal society with freedom of speech and expression as an over-reaction by the government, a stifling of freedom of expression, and an example of Singapore's draconian laws to maintain the illusion of Racial Harmony.

I tend to think of such laws and social norms (in SG), as "codified courtesy". Courtesy and social graces lubricates social engagement and interactions. If we want to rude in social interactions we can. But we will have to bear the consequences, pay the price. In social situations, this may mean that you are shunned and avoided, and not invited to future social functions.

In the community or larger society, the groups that are insulted by your racial slurs and insults may choose to take it out on you more explicitly. And that may then invite retaliatory attacks, and so on.

This is the government drawing a line in the sand.

A reply to a comment that the rap video would not incite violence in the commenter:
The larger point and larger issue is not whether Chinese feel attacked or insulted or would be motivated to respond (to the rap) with violence. The larger issue is that criticism or attacks based on race, based on the denigration of race, based on an accusation of racism is dangerous and cannot be allowed. Once that line is crossed, once the authorities turn a blind eye in one case, once there is implicit acceptance of such basis of attacks and criticism, then we slide down that slippery slope.
Certainly the rappers have a point of view, and a prima facie point. And they have every right to make a video calling out what they see as "racism" or, if you like, cultural appropriation, or lack of real minority representation (or our version of "whitewashing" - "Yellow washing"?), and perhaps as rappers/Youtubers/social media entities they felt they needed to be "true" to their social media persona, and their anti-establishment mien, and be controversial, confrontational, and sensationalise the issue. 
But in trying to be sensational, in trying to grab more eyeballs, in trying to go viral, they chose to be offensive and cast aspersions on the basis of race, with the accusation of racial discrimination. That is dangerous, and that crosses the line.
This is the govt drawing the line. 
I hope the two persons simply get a warning if they accept that they had crossed a line. There is no need to prosecute this to the full extent of the law.
I am inclined to believe this is one of those things that is a "creative expression" that had crossed the line. Sometimes young people do that. If they understand why what they did had the potential to create rifts in our society, then lesson learned.]

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