Swedish furniture giant IKEA was in November slammed for removing an interview with a lesbian couple from the Russian, Malaysian and Singaporean edition of a customer magazine. The interview between Clara and Kirsty from Dorset in the UK appears in the latest edition of IKEA Live, a magazine distributed to the company’s customers enrolled in the company’s IKEA Family customer loyalty programme. But when an online version of the magazine was published on the company’s website, there was no sign of Clara or Kirsty or their story.
While I was in South Turkey, I tried to get an article put together about IKEA Singapore and it’s double standards about the gay community in Singapore. But in the end I couldn’t complete it because I was so freaking disappointed in them and was too angry to think straight. Besides I wouldn’t be able to do anything with an objective mind.
I managed to get a friend to do the majority of the research for me while I focused on getting the job done where I was. But while working on the article, that was promised to a few gay magazines in South Asian/Pacific area, as well as in UK, I decided to skip it again and keep it until I could get something more about them after I completed the first draft.
But the fact is that IKEA Singapore single handedly placed Singapore on the same level as Russia when it came to local LGBT rights and even without any governmental pressure at all. That was actually my first and several others thoughts, when I heard that IKEA had censored an article about a lesbian couple in IKEA Live.
When contacting MDA – Media Development Authority in Singapore about what they were thinking, then I got a reply from Edwina Quek, representing MDA, that they (the gov.) did not interfere in printed media and had no objections to presentations of homosexual couples in the press, as long as it followed certain guidelines i.e. you would get spanked if it was in pornographic context.
IKEA through Sandra Keasberry, media contact at IKEA on the other hand initially stated that they had no other choice based on information from MDA, this was later returned to a “No comment”, and “We reserve the right to publish or not to publish what we want” when I could quote MDA’s stand on the issue.
They did give a standard comment “At IKEA, we believe in diversity and equality in all aspects. Everyone is welcome to the IKEA stores, and should feel appreciated for their differences as well as their similarities. This goes for our customers as well as our co-workers”, that in essential is a non reply, that can’t be used to much.
IKEA assigned a small local PR and Communications agency (Huntington Communications) to deal with me (us), and in general it made it more difficult to communicate with the local IKEA management as no one on IKEA ceo level wanted to comment on anything that could be published and neither did they want to appear on TV with regards to the subject. In general I had hoped to make a small spot for the Dutch and Scandinavian news, but with no management to show up, then I would have had a story with very little impact – unless I really went head to head with them and pressured them further.
If the article should have had any local effect at all, it should have been published in a local media with local exposure, and not a single local media dared to take it up because of fear from the government. Something that I learned after calling around to a few media contacts in Singapore. Singapore have a long history controlling the local media and news outlets, so any published story or media company that might go against the government’s written and unwritten policies will get thwarted immediately.
So could IKEA Singapore have done anything less than they did? Well yes, IKEA Singapore have actually published LGBT content in Singapore previously and with no pressure from the government or public outrage in the past, so they could have continue to do so if they had followed what they did in the past. But something internally have changed in IKEA in Singapore and I want to know what changed and I feel that the public should be allowed to know about it as well.
What do I have now? Well, I do have a lot of notes for future use, I have something of a half story that at best could be a 1 column story, so I am keeping it, waiting for some more contacts to show up and would love to get some insights on what in the world IKEA Singapore were thinking about. I do have a few contacts in IKEA, both in Singapore and corp. in Sweden, but both need some time to think about if they dare to go public. So for now everything is on hold.