Book on political cartoons and censorship by Cherian George, Sonny Liew blocked by IMDA

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship by Cherian George and Sonny Liew. (PHOTO: Red Lines website)
Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship by Cherian George and Sonny Liew. (PHOTO: Red Lines website)

SINGAPORE — A book on political cartoons and censorship by academic Cherian George and award-winning cartoonist Sonny Liew has been blocked by Singapore’s authorities for release in the local market.

In a statement, Professor George said on Monday (1 November) that the distributor of "Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship" had approached the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in August for consultations ahead of a planned release in Singapore. This is given that Singapore’s regulations differ from the US where the book is published.

Prof George said the authors have been discussing with the distributor Alkem on various technical means for redaction.

Through Alkem, the authors understand that IMDA was grateful for the cooperation, and appreciated the academic purpose of the book. “IMDA recognised that the book republishes examples of controversial cartoons to illuminate ongoing debates and not to offend,” Prof George said.

The book covers up some potentially inflammatory cartoons while its draft has been sent to a diverse panel of readers around the world for a sensitivity check, said the academic at Hong Kong Baptist University's School of Communication and Film.

Noting the "additional caution" by IMDA, Prof George said, “We will need more time to work out whether and how we can offer Singapore readers a redacted version of Red Lines that fully and faithfully communicates the substance of the book, while addressing the regulator’s concerns about showing works that it finds ‘objectionable’.”

Liew also shared Prof George’s statement on his Facebook page.

The cartoonist came into the public spotlight in 2015 after the National Arts Council (NAC) withdrew its $8,000 grant for his book “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” just before its launch. Explaining the reason for the withdrawal, an NAC spokesperson said the book “potentially undermines the authority” of the Singapore government. The book went on to win three Eisner Awards – the Oscars of the comics world.

In a separate statement on Monday, IMDA said the book is objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA).

“This is because the publication contains offensive images that denigrate religions, including reproductions of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad which led to protests and violence overseas. The publication also contained other denigratory references pertaining to Hinduism and Christianity,” IMDA said.

IMDA, in consultation with the Ministry for Culture, Community & Youth and the Ministry of Home Affairs, has identified 29 images that are objectionable under the UPA and has engaged Alkem about the matter.

In the last five years, IMDA has classified six other publications as objectionable for denigrating various religious communities.

Under the UPA, a person who is convicted of importing, selling, distributing, making or reproducing an objectionable publication faces a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a maximum jail term of 12 months.

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