Malaysia’s seemingly racial TV ad angers public
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Malaysia’s seemingly racial TV ad angers public

A series of advertisements by a popular Malaysian television channel has caused an uproar among the public recently, after it has purportedly stoked racial sentiments.

As part of the TV channel’s community service in conjunction with the Ramadhan fasting month observed by Muslims globally, 8tv- a station owned by government-linked company Media Prima Bhd- recently aired a series of advertisements depicting a Chinese girl behaving “inappropriately” in a food bazaar, causing discomfort among Malay stall owners.

The seemingly “inappropriate” behaviors included wearing a tank top- considered to be indecent dressing- to the bazaar and making loud exclamations remarks on the food displayed at the stalls.

The ad series were intended to convey a community message asking the public to observe moderation and respect toward the Ramadhan fasting month in a tongue-in-cheek manner. However, members of the public were offended by the stereotyping of characters in the ads, especially the Chinese girl that was portrayed as insensitive and ignorant.

All of Malaysia’s television channels are linked to government-linked companies and agencies. 8tv is one of the four television channels owned by Media Prima, and is targeted at a younger and vibrant audience. In defence of the ads, 8tv’s CEO, Ahmad Izham Omar, earlier said the ads were written, produced and directed by a multi-racial team.

However, the ads stirred a commotion among Malaysians and criticism for the ads for its underlying racial tones hogged networking sites on Aug 2.

Succumbed to mounting pressure, the ads were eventually pulled out by the TV station, followed by an apology by Ahmad. In a message on Twitter on Aug 2, he said the ads were not meant to offend any one in any way. “We’re sorry for the misinterpretation,” he posted.

Racial sentiments have frequently caused tension in Malaysia, which has a significant minority population- consisting mainly Chinese and Indians- compared with other countries in the Southeast Asia region. A major part of the tension is caused by the belief of Malay supremacy over other races by certain politicians in the ruling party component, the United Malays National Organization.

Observers say the ad campaign by 8tv has also touched a raw nerve on Malaysians, especially when justapoxed against the commercials by the late Yasmin Ahmad. Yasmin, a film director who died of stroke in 2009, was well known for commercials and movies that convey messages of overcoming cross-cultural barriers in the country.