SINGAPORE: A line has to be drawn on videos that "attack another race", said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Tuesday (Jul 30).
His comments came after police said that it was investigating an online video posted by local Internet star Preetipls for "offensive content".
The three-minute video was posted on Monday by the YouTuber, whose real name is Preeti Nair, and local rapper Subhas Nair.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said that a notice was issued to the publishers to have the video taken down.
"IMDA has assessed that the video by Preetipls and Subhas constitutes prohibited content under the Internet Code of Practice, that is objectionable on grounds of public interest and national harmony," it said.
"IMDA issued a notice to the publishers to take down the video, and they have complied."
The video was no longer available on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as of 6.15pm.
“This rap video insults Chinese Singaporeans, uses four-letter words on Chinese Singaporeans. Vulgar gestures, pointing of middle finger to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans,” Mr Shanmugam told reporters.
"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."
According to Section 298 of the Singapore Penal Code, it is an offence to “utter words with deliberate intent to wound the religious or racial feelings of any person”.
The video had criticised an advertisement on E-Pay, the Government's e-payment initiative, for its stereotypical portrayals of the different races in Singapore by a Chinese actor.
It was watched more than 40,000 times on Facebook. It was also uploaded on YouTube and a portion of it was posted on Instagram.
VIDEO ONLY TARGETING ADVERTISEMENT?
But Mr Shanmugam said it’s not a defence to say the video was done in response to something they “didn’t like”.
“If something you didn't like, then you ask for an apology. If you think it is criminal, you make a police report,” he stated. “You don't yourself cross the line.
“In any event, I find that if such an explanation is given, I will find it very odd, because I've seen an earlier video by her, Chinese New Year, doing the very same thing that the ad was criticised for.
“She's wearing a cheongsam and speaking sometimes in Mandarin, making fun of Chinese New Year, attacking Chinese.
“What was that in response to? Talking about Chinese gambling, talking about Chinese, you know, and money? Talking about Chinese and eating? What was that about? What was that in response to?”
VIDEO SETS PRECEDENCE
“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,” Mr Shanmugam said.
If authorities allow this video, “we have to allow” hundreds of similar videos, he added.
"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?”
Mr Shanmugam said there are “good reasons” why there is racial harmony in Singapore, where all the races including the minorities “feel safe”.
“And we must maintain that. We will maintain that,” 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.”
As for people who might question why authorities were taking the video so seriously, Mr Shanmugam also had a response.
“People can also say, why should we take this so seriously? Surely one video, it's not going to lead to violence? Surely people will laugh this off?” he said.
“Maybe so. What do you think will happen to our racial harmony? Social fabric? How will people look at each other?”
Mr Shanmugam said he has also asked the police to investigate the video, adding that “we cannot allow these sorts of attacks”.
Beyond the law, Mr Shanmugam said people “have to treat each other with respect, with courtesy”.
“So that we create a better environment for everyone,” he added. "So it behooves the majority, it behooves the minorities, everyone to be sensitive and sensible."
WHY THE AD CAMPAIGN IS OFFENSIVE
Nevertheless, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that he could understand why the original advertisement campaign drew backlash.
“You need the cultural sensitivity,” he said. “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. Similar things have happened in other countries and really should have taken a reference from that to see how people will react.”
The ad campaign featured Chinese actor Dennis Chew portraying individuals from the four races in Singapore.
NETS engaged Havas Worldwide as its creative agency for the publicity campaign for its e-payment app E-Pay. Havas then engaged Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm, The Celebrity Agency, to cast Chew as the face of the campaign.
Chew posed as an Indian man with a stereotypical name like K Muthusamy and a "brown face" - the act of darkening one's fair skin to mimic another race - as well as a Malay woman wearing a headscarf. The actor also cross-dressed as a Chinese woman.
In response to the backlash, Havas and The Celebrity Agency apologised for "any hurt that was unintentionally caused".
"The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone. For that reason, 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,” the agencies said in a statement on Monday.
“He appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay.
"We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused. Behind the ad is an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses.”
When contacted, Mediacorp said in a statement that the portrayal of some races in the advertisement was “done in an insensitive fashion”.
“We take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly,” it added. “We will have more stringent safeguards in place to prevent a repeat of such a mistake.”
When asked about the ad, Mr Shanmugam said: “I think it requires everyone to reflect carefully on how much they understand our society, how sensitive they are and how sensitive they need to be.
“I think there are lessons to be drawn by everyone who was involved.”