Sunday, April 11, 2010

Regardless of race

Race, language and religion are very sensitive issues in public (and of late, not so public) discourse in Singapore. Take for example how Pastor Rony Tan was taken to task for 'mocking' Buddhists and Taoists in a sermon delivered in the confines of his own Church, Lighthouse Evangelism. That's really not a public speech, but the government, represented by the Internal Security Department (ISD for short), deemed it necessary to step in to warn Pastor Tan. Witness the latest complaint from an Indian, Mr Ravi Veloo. He was unhappy that DJs from Class 95FM were seemingly 'mocking' Indians by putting on an exaggerated Indian accent (I can only surmise that the DJs were themselves not Indians) in the course of their commentary. It was meant to be funny and lighthearted, but Mr Veloo took exception to it.

What the DJs said exactly is not clear from the news report. Nor did I hear the manner in which the alleged comments were made by the DJs. But Class 95FM does not deny it, stating that '...our DJs do all sorts of funny things on air...", that they are done " entertain and appeal to discerning listeners." (ST, 10 April 2010, page A41). Opinion appears to be leaning towards the 'oh, its just for fun' camp. Only two other letter-writers disagreed with Class 95FM. I am taking this unscientific straw-poll from a count of the same Forum page mentioned earlier. It appears that more people agree with Class 95FM - parody the Indians, its just for fun. But an Indian has protested publicly.

This being the case, why hasn't the authorities, the guardians of racial and religious sensitivities in Singapore, among other things, seen fit to haul up Class 95FM for treading on sensitive ground here, the way they hauled up Mr Rony Tan? Is parodying a particular race in a very public media a less serious matter than putting down a religion or two? Have DJs a right to slur a particular race in the course of their job, never mind that they think it is all very funny.

Second, Class 95FM's stance is that their DJs' play on race and language should be seen as 'fun' and 'entertainment' by 'discerning listeners'. Does this mean the Mr Veloo is not a discerning listener? Or the other two who wrote in to express the same sentiment, or the silent lot (whoever they may be) who would agree with Mr Veloo? Should we then not say that the people who listened to what Pastor Tan said about Buddhists and Taoists should be discerning and that it is not the business for the rest, much less the ISD, to criticise? It appears that Class 95FM has conveniently and simply swept the dust under its proverbial carpet. It has not addressed in a fair, sensitive and reasonable manner the concerns of its listeners. It states that Mediacorp, its parent, has left such issues to Class 95FM to, in its own word, 'discern'.

I think it is time for Class 95FM, and its parent, Mediacorp, to re-evaluate its corporate social responsibility, or God forbid, for the ISD to step in?

P.S. Having said all that, my take is that the ISD should never have stepped in over the Rony Tan affair. Because it did, it is now bound to step in on this Class 95FM issue. Otherwise, it opens itself up to the charge of a lack of transparency in the discharge of its public duty - something that the Government of Singapore prides itself on.

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