If we were to allow the recent controversial rap video by Preetipls and her brother to stay online, then other videos that contain vulgarity and racially offensive content will also have to be allowed, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Thursday (22 August).
By doing so, this would put minorities at the losing end, and worsen racism in Singapore, he explained while speaking at a discussion on race organised by the National University of Singapore’s Department of Communications and New Media (CNM).
In the event, Mr Shanmugam spoke to about 100 university students, staff and general public, at the bi-annual CNM Leaders Summit, where participants got to discuss on political and industry leaders on specific issues.
Last month, Singaporean influencer and comedian Preeti Nair, famously known as Preetipls, along with her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, published a video in response to an advertisement created for e-payment website E-Pay. The ad featured actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races including a Malay woman wearing a headscarf and had his skin artificially darkened to portray an Indian man. The latter act of artificially darkening skin is referred as ‘Brownface’.
Hoping to point out the problems with the ad, the sibling came up with a rap video in Preetipls’ signature satirical comedy style. But it was laced with expletives and mocked Chinese Singaporeans directly for exploiting minorities for monetary gain, which rubbed people – including the authorities – in the wrong way.
Soon after that, the video was taken down and the Police launched an investigation as reports were filed against the video. On 14 August, the siblings were issued a two-year conditional warning under Section 298A(a) of the Penal Code, Chapter 224 which covers the offence of wounding racial feelings.
Explaining why the racist video had to be taken down at the Thursday’s event, Mr Shanmugam said, “If we allow the line to be crossed…then it’s free for all, the Chinese can be equally offensive, and the minorities will be the losers in such a conversation.”
However, the Minister admitted that having open and honest discussions about race is crucial, but noted that “the only thing that is being objected (in the video) is the tone”.
“When you use offensive language, others will use offensive language and it takes a completely different dimension,” he said, giving the situation in Germany as an example, where political cultural becomes more brutal and violent.
During yesterday’s NUS discussion, the talk on racism caused an active session that there was no time for the other topic (fake news) planned for the afternoon to take place.
The Law Minister pointed out that the laws must be applied equally to all, and if the rap video is allowed, then this means that the Chinese can act in the same way and produce racially offensive videos about Malays and Indians.
“In any society, 95% of the people would not go and do these things and attack another race. But if you allow the 5% to do it, over time that will become 10, 15%. Once it becomes normalised, it’s perfectly normal to talk about each other along these lines,” he explained.
He then asked the crowd, “Then to what extent do you think we will be able to have that kind of interactions we have today, where by and large the races co-exist and conduct relationships on a certain basis of respect and trust?”
When questioned by a member of the audience if the decision to censure the video could have been left to the society, the Minister stressed that the clip crossed the line of criminality.
“If society feels that such a video in the future should not be considered to be in breach, then the law will have to change. And you are the people who are going to determine what laws ought to be, because the laws reflect the social values and mores of society,” he noted, highlighting that the laws will change if the majority thinks so.
If the Government cannot convince the bulk of the people that Singapore should follow the current laws, then it is the leadership’s task to point out directly to the people the consequences of the changes, said Mr Shanmugam.
He also feels that there should be talks, preferably from the ground up, on race and religion.
“It’s a topic that is trending now and people are aware of it. We should discuss it – how do the minorities feel, how do the majorities feel. Have this openness in the conversation,” he told.