UPDATE: Mediacorp released a second apology addressing the LGBTQ community in a press statement on 14 July.
SINGAPORE — National broadcaster Mediacorp has apologised for a TV drama containing negative stereotypes of gay people following a backlash from its viewers and the LGBTQ community.
In reply to posts criticising Channel 8 drama My Guardian Angels, Mediacorp posted a comment on social media on Monday (13 July) saying that it had no intention to disrespect or discriminate against any persons or community in the drama, without mentioning the LGBTQ community.
“We are sorry if we have offended anyone or caused any distress. We have heard your feedback and will continue to exercise vigilance and be more mindful in our portrayal of characters,” said Mediacorp.
Yahoo Lifestyle SEA first reported about netizens’ criticism of Channel 8 and Mediacorp regarding the Chinese-language drama on 3 July. The show features characters displaying homophobic behaviour, and a male paedophilic character who has a sexually transmitted disease.
Mediacorp’s apology follows an earlier one from actor Chase Tan, who played the paedophilic character. Tan apologised for causing distress to the LGBTQ community because of the character. (See Tan’s full apology here.)
Singapore’s broadcasting rules do not allow content that has positive portrayals of LGBTQ people or promotes “homosexual lifestyles”.
The furore over the TV show began two weeks ago after gay business owner Teo Yu Sheng posted comments criticising the drama on the Instagram account of his brand, Heckin’ Unicorn, which sells LGBTQ-themed merchandise. Teo, 29, highlighted storylines and scenes in My Guardian Angels, which he said promote false negative perceptions of the LGBTQ community.
One character, a basketball coach played by Chase Tan, molests a teenage boy in one of the scenes. In a separate scene, another boy is shown as having sores, indicating that he is infected with a sexually transmitted disease by the coach.
In other scenes, characters played by Kym Ng and Brandon Wong behave in a homophobic manner. The two actors play a couple in My Guardian Angels.
Yahoo Lifestyle SEA has reached out to Mediacorp for comment.
Flak from LGBTQ community
The 30-episode series, aired on Channel 8 in April and May, is still available for viewing on YouTube and Mediacorp’s streaming service, meWatch. The show also stars Zoe Tay, Pierre Png, Hong Ling, Chen Tianwen, Jin Yin Ji, Benjamin Tan, Edwin Goh and Fang Rong.
Criticisms of the show’s homophobic scenes spread on various social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. Netizens have written numerous comments in the Instagram accounts of Mediacorp and Channel 8, calling for the company to apologise for causing harm and distress to the LGBTQ community.
Chase Tan and fellow actors Kym Ng and Brandon Wong were singled out by netizens for their roles in the TV series, which perpetuate negative perceptions of LGBTQ people such as gay men being sexual predators. They also pointed out that such depictions of queer people are not balanced by positive portrayals in local media.
Advocacy group Action for AIDS (AFA) also criticised Mediacorp in a statement last week, saying that the TV series perpetuates false stereotypes about gay people, which create further suffering among an already marginalised and stigmatised population.
AFA said there is no evidence that homosexual males have a greater propensity to offend against children than heterosexual males, and sexually transmitted diseases can affect anyone and are not confined to any gender identity, sexual orientation or behaviour.
Calls for action beyond apology
Commenting on Mediacorp’s apology, Teo said, “I’m glad that Mediacorp has finally mustered the courage to apologise, though it’s disappointing that it took them so long to do so. But an apology also isn’t enough; I hope that Mediacorp can pledge to stop creating negative portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community from now onwards. Taking real action is the only true form of apology.”
An AFA spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, “The apology from MediaCorp is a good start. However, what Action for AIDS would like to see is MediaCorp taking their role as a credible, national broadcaster seriously and this needs to include being able to have programming that does not set out to demonise any community in Singapore.”
Activists have said LGBTQ people in Singapore suffer persistent discrimination and stigma. Sex between men is illegal under Section 377A of the Penal Code. The authorities have said the law is not actively enforced but is still in place to reflect the moral views of the conservative majority.
Several legal challenges against 377A have been heard in the courts over the years. Three such cases were dismissed by the High Court in March this year.