Three weeks ago, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) released a video to promote the launch of their revamped website. The video, posted on the party’s Facebook page, features a young girl talking about the website.
It seems that there are some people who disagree with the party releasing a video with children in it. Specifically, a letter was published in the Straits Times forum on 30 September written by a Sean Lim who said he was “concerned to see a child anchoring the minute-long video and promoting the party brand”.
He added that he doubts that the child “has the maturity to understand partisan party politics” and questioned whether she was reading off a prepared script of actually expressing her views of the SDP.
Mr Lim went on to ask, “Does the Election Department have guidelines regarding the use of minors in political advertising?”
He added that “it seems inappropriate” to have children be used as the face of any political party for the purposes of furthering the party’s agenda.
He concluded, “Children should not be involved in conveying a party’s message directly.”
In response to Mr Lim’s letter, the Senior Assistant Director of Political Donations and Communications in the Elections Department Tay Chai Luan noted that primary and secondary school students are not allowed to appear in a video or take part in other activities to promote a political party during the period beginning Nomination Day and until the start of Polling Day.
The response, published on ST on 6 October, did note that while the prohibition does not apply outside the stated period, political parties should avoid using children in their activities.
The ED said: “While this prohibition does not apply outside of this period, we agree with the writer that political parties should refrain from inappropriate use of young children who will not fully understand what they may be promoting or subjecting themselves to.”
Following from that, SDP responded to the ED’s letter with a post on Facebook (9 October) saying that the young child in the video is a daughter of one of their CEC members and that the parent’s consent was obtained.
In the post, which was also published on the Facebook page of party secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan, SDP stated, “we have a proud tradition of involving our family members in our activities. This is because we stand for and champion values like compassion, courage and diversity, values that we feel our children are better off learning at a young age. A family that works together, stays together.”
Going further, SDP pointed out the double standard at play here given that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has “never been shy of using young children as props for its own ends”.
SDP then included several screenshots of the PAP Facebook page showing photos that were posted of several PAP politicians having a photo op with many young children.
SDP asked in their post, “In the PAP’s case, we’d like to know if any of the children appearing in the pictures posted on its Facebook understand “what they may be promoting or subjecting themselves to”? More importantly, was parental consent obtained?”
Another question would be: are there different sets of rules for different parties? Given that the ED commented on SDP’s recent video, why are they not also commenting on what the PAP did during GE2015 when they held a press conference in a nursing home in Sembawang when it was against the constitution of the facility for its premise to be used as for political events?
Back then, the PAP had been the one to book the location for the press conference during the election period. After a complaint was made by an opposition candidate, the Ministry of Home Affairs warned the Sunshine Welfare Action Mission to adhere to its constitution.
Interestingly, the PAP team which included now-Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung and led by current Minister of Transport Mr Khaw Boon Wan said that they “not check with the VWO’s constitution” before making the booking. The reason given was that the team had rented the premise on “purely commercial terms”, partly to support the home and partly because the venue was accessible and had sufficient space.
That is surprising. Wouldn’t a minister and political candidate know such things?