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IMDA yet to receive confirmation on 'specific plans' to address offensive content on the book Red Lines: MCI


SINGAPORE: Authorities have yet to receive "confirmation on specific plans to address the offensive content" in the book Red Lines from its authors or distributor more than two months after it was banned in Singapore, said the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) on Wednesday (Jan 12).

The ministry was responding to a post on the book's website by Professor Cherian George, who said that he and co-author Sonny Liew had decided, before their distributor Alkem approached the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), to make some redactions for copies heading to Singapore.

This decision was made “out of respect for local norms”, he added.

"We were waiting for IMDA’s inputs before doing the edits, but the government banned the book instead," he said.

"We intend to proceed with the changes that we had in mind before the ban."

However, in response to the post, MCI said that the book was launched in the United States on Aug 31, 2021, two months before IMDA’s decision on Nov 1, 2021, to disallow the publication for distribution in Singapore.

"Even now, more than two months later, IMDA has not received any confirmation on specific plans to address the offensive content in the book from the authors or distributor," said MCI in Wednesday's statement.

"As Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo has said in Parliament today: ‘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,’" MCI added.

The book Red Lines: Political Cartoons And The Struggle Against Censorship came under the spotlight when the issue was brought up in Singapore Parliament on Wednesday.

It was banned from distribution in Singapore in November due to its “offensive religious content”, Mrs Teo said in Parliament.

"Regardless of the authors’ intent for publishing the book, such images will be highly disturbing to the Muslim community in Singapore, if they were available for distribution," Mrs Teo later said in a Facebook post.

During the Parliament session, MP Tin Pei Ling (PAP-MacPherson) asked if the political nature of the cartoons in the publication played a part in the decision to ban its distribution in Singapore.

Mrs Teo replied that political cartoons in themselves are not the problem, as some are already in circulation.

“It is very clear that Red Lines was disallowed for its offensive religious content,” said Mrs Teo.

She added that the publication contained “multiple objectionable images” that were racially and religiously offensive.

She also said Singapore's position on such content is well known, adding that Alkem – the Singapore distributor of Red Lines – had also expressed concerns about some of the book’s images being objectionable when it first approached IMDA.

The book contained reproductions of political cartoons, including ones published by French satire Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

It also included other denigratory references pertaining to Hinduism and Christianity, IMDA said at the time. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) also expressed support for the authority’s decision.

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