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Reactions to Amy Cheong's racist rant questioned

Observers ask if online vitriol and police report were warranted

Published on Oct 9, 2012 6:00 AM

Although most commentators and experts agree that Ms Amy Cheong deserved to be fired, many have questioned the huge response to her remarks - from the online vitriol to the police report lodged against her.

Some asked whether the case had been blown out of proportion.

Politicians and human resource experts agreed that it was her employer's prerogative to sack her, but wondered whether more counselling could have been done.

Mr David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) had acted within its rights. "In a situation like this, the employer has the right to decide to be magnanimous or not," he said.

Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng said the fact that Ms Cheong worked for a labour organisation representing different sections of society was a factor in her dismissal. "I think there are certain expectations of people in this kind of role," he said.

Yet, he added that stopping individuals from posting offensive comments online will not instil a respect for all races. Instead, mutual respect should be taught at home and in schools.

Social media lawyer Lionel Tan said Ms Cheong's senior position as assistant director and the fact her Facebook presence was closely associated with her employer contributed to her dismissal. "Since people knew she was part of NTUC, in a sense, she has brought her organisation to disrepute," he said.

MP Zainal Sapari, who is also a NTUC director, said he was upset when he found out about the posting because he knew Ms Cheong. "I couldn't believe that a very senior person from NTUC could actually make such a remark," he said. "I would have expected her to exercise better judgment."

But he added it was important to acknowledge that firm action had been taken, and move on. "I didn't like some of the Facebook responses - threats and calls for her to be sent to prison," he said.

Debate also raged online over whether the police report lodged by grassroots leader Lionel de Souza was warranted. Both former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong and media academic Ang Peng Hwa said Ms Cheong's comments were a racist rant, not a call for action, and were not calculated to cause enmity between races here. Mr Siew added that while this did not excuse the remarks, the police report was unnecessary.

Professor Ang said that these days, Singaporeans automatically head to the police in such situations. "I don't feel the report is justified, but it is based on precedent, in a way," he said.

Media Literacy Council vice-chairman Carmee Lim said netizens should flag such irresponsible comments as unacceptable.

Emotions ran high online on Monday, with most Internet users approving of Ms Cheong's firing. IT consultant Brendan Chong, 26, said: "I was concerned that people nowadays are liberally disparaging others' race or religion."

Others, however, took a more sympathetic approach. Facebook user Afiq Juan posted: "You don't combat a narrow mind with a narrow solution. Calling for her to be fired was myopic."



Background story


The emergence of the Internet and social media, such as blogging and Facebook, frees some people to say what is really in their hearts. Her comments reflect a deep-seated racist attitude coupled with contempt for those who are less well-off or who wish to
spend less.

– Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam


As I write this, prayers from Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, our oldest mosque in Singapore, are being broadcast. This is part of our life. It is part of our landscape... together with the burning of offerings, void-deck funerals and weddings, increased parking during Friday prayers or Sunday morning worship. But we all give and take. Most live and let live. Many are proud of this colourful tapestry that we have here. This is part of what it means to be Singaporean.

– Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

Insensitive comments that went viral

MS AMY Cheong's Facebook post is the latest in a string of insensitive messages to go viral and spark a furore online.

  • August 2012: Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam shared an e-mail written to him by a Singaporean constituent complaining about his Indian neighbours. The man told the minister he was upset at having to "smell their Indian sweaty smell and unwashed bodies". He also complained about other Indians, including his daughter's neighbour, who walked around in a sarong.
  • March 2012: Nanyang Polytechnic student Shimun Lai wrote on her Facebook and Twitter accounts that Indians need their own form of transport or to be in separate cabins from others. She also likened them to dogs.
  • February 2012: Sun Xu, a Chinese national studying mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore, made disparaging remarks about Singaporeans in his microblog, and said "there are more dogs than humans in Singapore".
  • November 2011: Former Young People's Action Party member Jason Neo posted a picture of Malay pupils from Huda Kindergarten on his Facebook wall with an offensive caption: "Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?"
  • August 2011: Singaporeans took to Facebook to organise "Cook a Pot of Curry" day, as a show of solidarity after a family from China complained about the smell of curry from their Singaporean Indian neighbours' home.