'Red Lines' authors have not confirmed 'specific plans' to address offensive content in book: MCI

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 — The authorities in Singapore have not received any confirmation on "specific plans" to address the offensive content in 'Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship’, said the press secretary for Minister of Communications and Information Josephine Teo on Thursday (13 January).

In a press statement, Dawn Tay said that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had not received this confirmation from either distributor Alkem, or authors Cherian George and Sonny Liew, more than two months after 'Red Lines' was banned in Singapore.

The book was launched in the United States on 31 August. Prof George is an academic at Hong Kong Baptist University's School of Communication and Film, while Liew is an award-winning cartoonist. IMDA later said it disallowed the book for distribution in Singapore on 1 November 2021.

The press secretary also reiterated Teo's remarks to Parliament on Wednesday (12 January), "If and when they do so, they can approach IMDA to assess the suitability of a revised version of ‘Red Lines’ for distribution in Singapore."

Response to Cherian George

Tay was responding to Prof George's blog post, on Wednesday, which stated that he and Liew had already decided last year, before Alkem approached IMDA, that "we should make some redactions for copies heading to Singapore stores out of respect for local norms".

He added, "We were waiting for IMDA’s inputs before doing the edits, but the government banned the book instead. We intend to proceed with the changes that we had in mind before the ban."

Alkem approached IMDA in August 2021 for consultations ahead of a planned book release in Singapore. Last November, the authors noted 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 then.

When asked by Yahoo News Singapore to comment on Tay's remarks, the authors said they had nothing to add to Prof George's blog post.

Classified as undesirable publication

"Red Lines" is a tribute to political cartoons and includes interviews with cartoonists around the world who have been variously harassed, sued, jailed and attacked for their work.

Last November, IMDA said that "Red Lines" was deemed objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA) as it contains "offensive images that denigrate religions, including reproductions of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad which led to protests and violence overseas".

IMDA added that the book also contains other denigratory references pertaining to Hinduism and Christianity. IMDA, in consultation with the Ministry for Culture, Community & Youth and the Ministry of Home Affairs, identified 29 images that are objectionable under the UPA and engaged Alkem on the matter.

Teo told the House on Tuesday that the book was blocked for release in Singapore as it contains "multiple objectionable images", which are racially and religiously offensive, and not for its political content.

When asked to confirm Prof George's remarks on the authors' openness to redactions in the book, and whether IMDA had communicated directly with them on the submission process for a revised version of the previously banned book, an MCI spokesperson referred Yahoo News Singapore to Tay's statement, as well as Teo's parliamentary remarks.

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