The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has assessed the publication “Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle Against Censorship” to be objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA) as the book contains images that denigrate religions, including the reproduction of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
The Government has made very clear its views on the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and on offensive images which denigrate religions and religious figures. We do not allow any religious group to be insulted or attacked, because hate speech and offensive content can easily be normalised and lead to deep social divides if left unchecked. To preserve racial and religious harmony in Singapore, we take a firm stance on such content regardless of their purpose of publication.
In the last five years, IMDA has assessed six other publications besides “Red Lines” to be objectionable for denigrating various religious communities. These publications were assessed to be likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups and are thus not allowed for distribution in Singapore. For example, in 2020, IMDA deemed the book “Understanding the Evil of Innovation” objectionable as the book contained strong denigratory references towards Judaism and Christianity. Removal of the offensive content will not automatically lead to these publications being allowed for distribution. Revised versions would have to be re-assessed holistically; none of the publishers have sought to do so.
“Red Lines” was launched in the United States of America on 31 August 2021, before IMDA took a decision on its suitability for distribution in Singapore. There are multiple objectionable images throughout the book which are racially and religiously offensive. Singapore’s position on such content is well-known. The Singapore distributor of “Red Lines” itself, Alkem Company, had concerns about some of the book’s images being objectionable when they first approached IMDA. In response to IMDA’s public explanation of its reasons for assessing “Red Lines” to be objectionable and unsuitable for distribution in Singapore, the authors Dr Cherian George and Mr Sonny Liew issued a public statement in which they expressed the view that the “regulator has opted for additional caution”. It should be noted however, that even with such caution, our society is not free from frictions that strain racial and religious harmony.
At this point, Alkem and the authors have not confirmed their specific plans on the treatment of the offensive content. If and when they do so, they can approach IMDA to assess the suitability of a revised version of “Red Lines” for distribution in Singapore.
To ensure that publications that have been deemed objectionable are not distributed in Singapore, IMDA maintains a database of these publications which importers and book distributors can refer to. It is an offence for any person to import, sell, distribute, make or reproduce an objectionable publication. The penalty is a fine not exceeding $5,000 or jail not exceeding 12 months or both.