SINGAPORE: The People's Association (PA) has apologised after a wedding photo of a couple was used as a standee for Hari Raya decorations in Radin Mas Single Member Constituency (SMC) without the couple's permission.
Ms Sarah Bagharib, 30, said in an Instagram post on Friday (May 28) that she wrote a letter to the authorities after realising that her wedding photo had been made into a standee and was used as Hari Raya decor at a Tiong Bahru housing estate.
"A few days ago, I discovered much to my dismay the use of my and my husband’s wedding photograph at Tiong Bahru Orchid (Jalan Bukit Merah) in celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year," she wrote.
"Using a wedding photo to depict Malays/Singaporean Muslims celebrating Hari Raya is inappropriate. Using my wedding photo without my consent is unwarranted. Using my wedding photo as a caricature of Malay people is unacceptable."
Ms Sarah's social media post received more than 10,000 likes and 300 comments as of Saturday afternoon.
The communications specialist for an international humanitarian aid organisation said in her letter to the authorities, shared on Instagram, that not only was this "disregard for copyright laws", it was also "tone deaf" as PA used a photo of the couple in traditional Malay wedding outfits to depict Hari Raya.
When contacted, Ms Sarah said that the photo was taken at her wedding in 2017. Two friends shared an Instagram story with her after they recognised the cut-out standee as a photo of her and her husband.
"I was honestly taken aback – it's one thing to have my photo used without my permission for a government-related 'celebration' and another to have our faces cut out for other people to put theirs through and take photographs of," she said.
"As an ethnic minority living in Singapore, this also felt too familiar. This isn't new – seeing others have a superficial understanding of my culture and then feeling like I have to explain it. It's exhausting."
"THEATRICAL ELEMENTS FOR CLOWNERY AND AMUSEMENT"
Ms Sarah then sent an email with the letter to MP Melvin Yong (PAP-Radin Mas), Tanjong Pagar Town Council and the Chief Executive Director of PA, Mr Lim Hock Yu.
She said Mr Lim replied to her email and apologised, saying that he has instructed his staff to take the standee down immediately. He also said PA will conduct an investigation to find out how it happened.
"Minister Edwin Tong has also separately apologised to me privately and acknowledged that the incident is inappropriate and insensitive. He also said that he has asked PA and Radin Mas SMC to look into the matter and will let me know how this happened," she told CNA.
Mr Tong is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law. He is also the deputy chairman of PA.
"We definitely do not consent to our images being made into theatrical elements for clownery and amusement," said Ms Sarah. "I hope that organisations like the PA, whose mission and goals are to promote racial harmony and build social cohesion in Singapore, are able to go beyond superficial understanding of ethnic minority cultures. Diversity starts at the top.
"It shows that we need more diverse voices in leadership positions within organisations that work with the Government and are meant to promote racial harmony and social cohesion."
PA SAYS IT TAKES BREACH SERIOUSLY
In response to CNA's queries, Mr Yong said: "The Hari Raya decoration was meant to add some festive cheer for our residents amid this pandemic. The decoration has been taken down."
"I’m deeply sorry that this happened to Ms Sarah and her family," he said in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, adding that he had also written an apology to her.
"There can be no excuse for the breach of copyright and the decorations should not have been allowed to be put up.
"We acknowledge that the choice of a wedding photo to depict the Hari Raya festivities was inappropriate and we do sincerely apologise for the oversight."
Mr Yong said that internal review processes will need to be significantly strengthened, and that the PA is reviewing how it can do things better so that such issues do not happen again.
PA said that the Radin Mas Constituency Office had engaged a vendor, Warabi Enterprise (Art Studio), to design and put up Hari Raya decorations at the Tiong Bahru Orchid estate.
"The vendor came up with the concept and design for the decorations. Unfortunately, in doing so, they downloaded and used Ms Sarah Bagharib's photo from an online source and then used it for a cut-out standee.
"These decorations, including the standee, were then put up by Radin Mas Constituency Office.
"This should not have happened," PA said in a statement.
PA acknowledged that neither the vendor nor Radin Mas Constituency Office obtained permission to use the photo. It has spoken to the vendor on "the seriousness of this infringement", and will follow up with the appropriate steps, it said.
"Nonetheless the PA, including Radin Mas Constituency Office, take responsibility for this error as we had oversight of the matter, and the decorations were allowed to be put up," the statement said.
"We take such breaches, including copyright violations, seriously. We will put in place stricter internal controls and processes to ensure this does not happen again."
PA also said it regretted the use of the wedding photo to depict Hari Raya celebrations, saying that this was "not appropriate".
"We will take steps to guide and help our staff and, as far as possible, external vendors as well, to be more culturally-attuned and sensitive.
"We have apologised unreservedly to Ms Sarah Bagharib and her family for the distress which our mistake has caused," said PA.
"We have given her an explanation of the circumstances which led to the error and have also offered to meet with her to address any other queries which she might have.
"As soon as we were made aware of the issue, we immediately removed the standee."
Radin Mas Constituency Office and a representative of Warabi Enterprise also apologised to Ms Sarah in her Instagram post.
The constituency office wrote in the comments using its Instagram account: "We would also like to apologise to Ms Sarah and the Malay/Muslim community on the inappropriate choice of photo.
"We acknowledge that the use of a photograph of a bride and groom in traditional Malay outfit does not represent Hari Raya. We will be more mindful going forward."