[UPDATED at 9:34pm: Adding Nat Geo Singapore's statement]
The National Geographic Channel Singapore has apologised for a publicity stunt that took place on Friday afternoon, amid criticism from the online community.
In its statement, NGC Singapore "apologised unreservedly" for "unintentionally" offending national servicemen, adding that the marketing campaign was meant to communicate "a sliver of what it must be like to go through Officer Cadet School".
As part of the stunt, a platoon of hired actors dressed in army attire were stationed in the middle of Raffles Place during lunch time.
Members of the public were encouraged to step up to a podium, shouting traditional foot drill commands like “Sedia” (stand at attention) or Senang Diri (stand at ease)”. If they did so in a loud and clear manner, the platoon would then execute these commands.
Watch a video of the campaign event here:
The stunt was put together to promote the second season of National Geographic Channel’s popular series, “Every Singaporean Son'. The second season titled "The Making of an Officer” documents the journey of a group of Officer Cadets in Officer Cadet School (OCS).
The publicity stunt, however, received an overwhelming number of negative responses online with many objecting to the way that the “National Service (NS) men” were seemingly stationed for the amusement of civilians.
In a comment on Yahoo! Singapore’s Facebook page, Renson Seow said that regardless of whether the men were full time NS men or paid actors, what mattered was that the stunt portrayed NS men and the army.
“They were being advertised as automatons, playthings for the command and amusement of civilians, who in fact…owe it to our NS men for their security,” he said.
Another Facebook user, Au Kah Kay commented, “It makes a mockery of NS and trivializes the sacrifices that Singaporean men have to make to defend the country and its people, including foreigners.”
A part-time student, 31-year-old Adrian Poon, whom Yahoo! Singapore spoke to, also felt that the stunt trivialised life in the army.
“Commanding a platoon of soldiers is an honour earned by soldiers who have risen up and (gone) beyond the call of duty. A civilian will never understand the things a commander has to go through to be in that position,” he said.
A few however, felt that people took the stunt too seriously and even appreciated the chance to connect with the army.
Alasdair Yee commented, “It’s probably a publicity stunt la. Why so uptight?” He also added, “Our army probably needs more men to step up…I think it’s cool.”
A 25-year-old public relations consultant, Rasyida Samsudin, told Yahoo! Singapore, “Personally, seeing what it was all about, I thought it gave a good opportunity for the public to "come close and personal" to the army.
“As a woman not serving NS, I think a campaign like this is a great opportunity for us to just get an experience, albeit on the surface, of the army,” she added.