IMDA concludes NETS' brownface ad didn't breach code of practice

Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has completed its assessment of NETS' "brownface ad" and confirmed it did not breach the Internet Code of Practice. However, an IMDA spokesperson acknowledged in a statement to Marketing that the ad was done in "poor taste" and had caused offence to minority communities.

According to IMDA, the parties involved in the ad have been issued a reminder on the importance of paying attention to racial and religious sensitivities. The spokesperson said IMDA expects all advertising companies and other content producers to be similarly mindful of these sensitivities. It also added:

IMDA will not hesitate to take action against any content that is found to be in breach of our Codes of Practice and guidelines.

The ad published on NETS' e-pay site and plastered across the neighbourhood copped flak for featuring Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew dressed as a Malay women in a head scarf and an Indian man with darkened skin. Netizens were outraged that people of the actual races were not engaged instead of having one person play different roles. Social influencer and comedian Preetipls, along with her brother Subhas Nair also took a jab at Mediacorp in a rap video. However, the video was removed as a police complaint was lodged against the video for “offensive content”.

The police have issued the sibling duo a 24-month conditional warning as the rap video was in clear contravention of the Penal Code.

However, according to the police, there was no criminal offence disclosed in the E-Pay ad and no further action will be taken.

The ad by E-Pay first got the attention of netizens over the last week of July. In a joint statement to Marketing, Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm The Celebrity Agency and Havas Worldwide (the agency behind the ad) apologised for any hurt that was unintentionally caused and the ad was an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses.

“The message behind this advertising campaign was that e-payment is for everyone. 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 and he appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay,” the statement read.

In light of the topic around racism in ads, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) said it will be introducing a new guideline that will highlight “potential sensitivities” to marketers if race and ethnicity are involved in their ad campaigns. The recommendation, which will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP), will complement an existing section on how advertisements should be non-discriminatory against any ethnic group or religion.