SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday (2 August) slammed the “mock, insincere apology” by social media personality Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas over their controversial rap video.
Calling it a spoof of an earlier apology by Havas Worldwide for the E-Pay advertisement, MHA said the Nairs’ “pretence of an apology” goes to show “contempt for the many Singaporeans who have expressed concern at their blatantly racist rap video”.
“This is not the first time Ms and Mr Nair have expressed racist sentiments. About a year ago, Ms Nair published a video where she acted as a Chinese and mocked the Chinese community’s practices, culture and traditions. She portrayed Chinese as money-minded gamblers.
“Mr Nair wrote a song recently that says that Singapore condones systemic discrimination. This song was written for MediaCorp as part of this year’s National Day celebrations. Among the lyrics in the song: ‘We live in a system that has normalised us...to walk oblivious to a brown man stopped and ID checked.’ This is blatantly false,” the MHA said.
MHA added that it takes action whenever there are offensive statements which breach the law, regardless of the race of the offender.
It referred to a case last year, when a 36-year-old Chinese woman published comments that made racial insinuations and who later apologised and was given a stern warning for her actions, and another case earlier this year, when a Chinese man was jailed and caned for writing racist messages about Malays on walls.
“(The Chinese man’s) messages had been seen by far less people than the videos issued by Ms and Mr Nair,” said the ministry. “Police are continuing their investigations and taking advice from Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).”
In a joint statement on their social media platforms, the Nairs apologised for “any hurt” that was “unintentionally caused” by the video.
They described their three-minute rap video as a “light-hearted” initiative to provide “greater consciousness to consumers, corporations and the many faces of Singapore”.
The message behind the video is that opportunities must be for everyone, said the statement.
“For that reason, K Muthusamy, well-known for his ability to address privilege, power, and censorship in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of this music video,” it added.
“He speaks to characters from all walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that only some people pay.”
In the video posted on social media on Monday, the Nairs mocked the advertisement, in which Chinese Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew was depicted as four different characters, including an Indian man with artificially darkened skin and a Malay woman wearing a headscarf.
The video was peppered with expletives and vulgar gestures directed at Chinese Singaporeans. In it, the Nairs referred to the character by the name of K Muthusamy that appeared in the advertisement, and implied that it is evidence of a racial bias against minorities here.
The siblings later complied with a notice to take down the video, said a spokesperson from the Infocomm Media Development Authority.
The Nairs’ apology appears to be an imitation of the joint statement issued by Havas and Mediacorp's celebrity management unit over the advertisement on 28 July.
The message behind the advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone, the agencies said.
"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. 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,” Havas and the Mediacorp unit added.
Other apologies over the advertisement
The police are currently investigating the video following a report made over its “offensive content”.
A spokesperson from the Infocomm Media Development Authority said in a statement that the siblings had complied with a notice to take down the video.
On Thursday, Havas reiterated its apology over the advertisement and said, “Our multicultural society defines us as a nation, and we regret if anyone has been offended by the campaign.”
NETS apologised on Wednesday “for any hurt that its campaign has caused”. The e-payment provider oversees the roll out of cashless payments in hawker centres, coffee shops, and canteens. It was appointed last year by Enterprise Singapore, the National Environment Agency, the Housing and Development Board and JTC Corporation to oversee the E-Pay system.
“The campaign was in connection with the unified e-payment initiative, a multi-agency effort led by Enterprise Singapore, where NETS was appointed as the master acquirer to handle payment transactions and drive adoption of e-payment in small food businesses,” added NETS.
Singapore’s advertising authority said that while the advertisement was “in poor taste”, it did not breach its code of practice.
The council of the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore felt that the advertisement was not done “with harm in mind or to deliberately put down any ethnic groups”, said its chairman Professor Ang Peng Hwa, adding that they have received two feedback about the matter.
Regarding the advertisement, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said he had been advised by lawyers that no offence had been committed.