Freedom of expression vs brand/agency sensibility - where do we draw the line

The online crisis between agency Mediacorp’s EPay ad and the viral video of Preetipls

EPay Mediacorp

Where do we draw the line? A Twitter update, a Whatsapp forward or a Tiktok video can create tensions among communities. India has witnessed it, Singapore is facing the heat now. However, the Singapore government has handled the crisis with a loud statement.

According to The Drum: K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister, said the government takes a zero-tolerance approach to songs like this even though the e-payment ad was put out in ‘poor taste’. “If it’s 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.”

Now let us rewind to understand what was the ad and was it racist?

E-Pay, a Singapore government agency that encourages the public to use electronic payment solutions in coffee shops, hawker centres, and industrial canteens across the country recently released an ad to demonstrate the easy of the payments. The ad featured Dennis Chew, a Mediacorp actor, dressed in various forms of garb to represent the main races of Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian. He also dressed up as a woman.

This led to debate of racism online on how the character is insulting the different races and women. The character also darkened his skin to represent as an Indian guy wearing a lanyard with the name “K Muthusamy”.

The agency was quick to pull down the ad as it started trending for all the wrong reasons. A statement was shortly released - “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.”

The burning topic was picked up by a local influencer Preetipls, she released an expletive-laden rap video with her brother Subhas Nair, in response to the ad. The video a remix of Iggy Azaela’s song ‘Fuck It Up’, saw Preetipls and Nair take aim at Chinese Singaporeans for being racist and exploiting minorities for money.

The video went viral but insulting the Chinese Singaporeans with the four letter word and the gestures didn’t go well with the officials. “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,” said Shanmugam.

This isn’t the first time that the local influencer has offended the community, she did a similar video earlier during the Chinese New Year. According to latest reports, a police report has been lodged against the video and police investigation is going on.

Freedom of expression can’t be at the cost of insulting a community. The officials pulling down Preeti’s viral video is a rational move. But why only have a case against the local influencer. What about the agency Havas and Mediacorp? Why are they left out just because they issued an apology. Mediacorp isn’t innocent and they are not doing for the first time (YouTube informed me that Mediacorp is funded in whole or partly by Singapore government.) Interesting!

What about Dennis, what was he thinking when he was wearing a tudung(a traditional headscarf worn by Malay women). Is he also not responsible?

The debate of holding celebrities accountable for what they endorse isn’t new. Accountability is essential. Besides, agencies/brands can’t just move on with a mere apology.

However, in this case the axe is on the local influencer.

Freedom of expression vs brand/agency sensibility - who is to be blamed and where do we draw the line?