The Straits Times
www.straitstimes.com
Published on Oct 09, 2012
 

Reactions to Amy Cheong's racist rant questioned

Observers ask if online vitriol and police report were warranted

 
 

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."

charyong@sph.com.sg

jennanid@sph.com.sg

MORE DISCUSSION ONLINE AT WWW.SINGAPOLITICS.SG