ASAS’ handling of Pink Dot ad goes against Singapore’s Shared Values

ASAS’ handling of Pink Dot ad goes against Singapore’s Shared Values
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[Headline photo: TODAY]

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) claims that the line “Supporting the freedom to love” on a Pink Dot banner in Cineleisure goes against Singapore’s Shared Values.

This can be inferred from a report in Marketing, which reported the council’s view as follows:

“[In keeping] with the shared values in Singapore’s society, such as “family as the basic unit of society”, “community support and respect for the individual”; and “consensus, not conflict”, the council is of the view that the statement “Supporting the freedom to love” must be removed.”

That is quite a puzzling, if not downright irrational, statement.

The banner drew complaints from a Facebook group which is opposed to the annual Pink Dot event at Hong Lim Park.

The complaint prompted the ASAS to ask Cathay, which manages Cineleisure, to remove the apparently offensive sentence.

Cathay, however, has stood its ground and said it has “always believed in an all-inclusive society where there is a place for everyone to call home”. Later, it said it had no authority to remove the sentence in question and would refer the ASAS’ request to the Pink Dot organisers.

The organisers, in turn, said they could not understand “how a tagline calling for inclusion and love can… be seen as undermining the concept of family or disrespecting the individual”, and invited ASAS to a dialogue on the matter.

On Friday, several days after the controversy came to light, the TODAY newspaper reported:

“TODAY understands that there has been no direct communication between ASAS and the event organisers so far, and there is no indication that they would accede to ASAS’ request.”

Now, it would seem that ASAS’ handling of the issue smacks of high-handedness which goes against the very grain of Singapore’s Shared Values, in particular the one which refers to “consensus, not conflict” which the ASAS itself cited for wanting the banner edited.

The Shared Value states:

“The aim of this value is to show that consensus should be the end result for any debate or dispute; constructive rather than confrontational discussion should be the means by which consensus is achieved. Singaporeans should participate in constructive discussion with sincerity and with the intention of upholding national interests. This value extends beyond state-civil relations: It also applies to disputes arising between unions and employers, communities, within families and in the commercial sphere.

The value relevant to this case clearly says there should be “consensus”, and that parties involved should “participate in constructive discussion with sincerity”, and that this practice is expected in disputes arising within “communities” and “in the commercial sphere.”

Unfortunately, the ASAS seems to have either forgotten this value or does not understand what it says, for the ASAS has, without seeking dialogue with either Cathay or the Pink Dot organisers, unilaterally ordered Cathay to have the banner edited to remove the sentence in question.

Now that the organisers of Pink Dot has – adhering to the Shared Values – invited ASAS to a “frank discussion” on the matter, we hope ASAS will accept the invitation to do so.

We also expect ASAS to disclose, again in the spirit of the Shared Values, how the decision to remove the purportedly offensive sentence was made. For example, was it made by one person, or was a meeting held within ASAS to discuss the issue? Who made the complaints – and how many complaints were made about the banner?

In other words, should not the ASAS be more transparent about how it decides on such matters, instead of hiding behind a wall of opacity?

At least one person called the ASAS to ask these questions and more.

It has been reported that the chairman of ASAS is a devout Christian whose church is against homosexuality. (See here.)

It is also apt, at this point, to remind the ASAS and the complainant or complainants to remember what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his 2009 National Day Rally speech, where he spoke of how different (religious) communities should “live and let live”.

“[All] groups have to exercise tolerance and restraint,” PM Lee said. “Rules which only apply to one group cannot become laws which are enforced on everyone…. If we have to live together in peace, then all have to adopt ‘live and let live’ as our principle.”

He also reiterated how the “government has to remain secular.”

“In Parliament, we have people of all faiths and in Cabinet too. And when people who have a religion approach a national issue, they will often have views which are informed by their religious beliefs.  It is natural because it is part of you, it is part of your individual, your personality.

“But you must accept that other groups may have different views, informed by different beliefs and you have to accept that and respect that.”

PM Lee said “public debate… has to be on secular rational considerations, public interests – what makes sense for Singapore.”

Let us hope that the debate on the issue of the Pink Dot banner will take such advice into consideration, especially by ASAS and those who would seek to bar others from promoting what is essentially a Shared Value – respecting the individual in the choices he makes for himself, including the freedom to love.

Lastly, one of the other Shared Values adopted in Singapore is “Community support and respect for the individual”, which says:

“A major component of this value is the emphasis that every individual in Singapore society has rights that should be respected and “not lightly encroached upon”. It is not merely “polite deference” to another person; rather, it is to acknowledge the person and genuinely value him or her. By emphasising on the individual, this value balances the Shared Values’ stress on community and society with the individual.”

How do you “genuinely value him or her” if you deny the very essence of who he or she is, and seek to ostracise him or her from secular society, which Singapore is, through such irrational behaviour?