June 27, 2008 / 3:29 AM / 11 years ago

Japan firm scraps ad after racial controversy

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese mobile phone firm has halted an advertisement depicting a monkey as a political candidate after bloggers said the commercial was a racial slur against U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is silhouetted by a television light during a campaign visit to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada June 24, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun

An ad aired by the mobile unit of eAccess Ltd showed the firm’s mascot, a monkey, addressing a political rally in Japanese and surrounded by supporters brandishing placards with the word “Change”.

Some bloggers said the eMobile ad was racist because it seemed to refer to Obama and his campaign slogan advocating change. Earlier this week Britain’s Telegraph newspaper ran a story saying the ad “apparently portraying Barack Obama as a monkey has provoked a new row about racial depictions of the Democratic candidate”.

Monkeys, while revered in parts of Asia, are viewed in the United States as a racial slur if used to depict African Americans.

eMobile said on Friday that the firm never meant to malign Obama but was withdrawing the ad after the outbreak of criticism in cyberspace.

“We had no bad intentions, but this is a cross-cultural gap issue and we have to accept it,” eMobile CEO Sachio Semmoto told Reuters. “There are some African Americans in Japan, so we decided to take prompt action and shut down the ad.”

Semmoto said the advertisement, which he said was produced by WPP Group Plc’s JWT unit, had meant to underscore his firm’s commitment to change.

“For two years I’ve been saying that Obama has the capacity to change America, the kind of capacity that Japan needs,” said Semmoto, who has a reputation as a maverick and whose company has carved out a niche in Japan with a pricing model that differs from more entrenched competitors.

Monkey deities exist in Hinduism, Buddhism and Shintoism, and monkey figures are common in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, including the famous 17th century carving of three wise monkeys on the facade of the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. In Hinduism, Hanuman is a monkey god revered for courage and power.

Semmoto is a director and trustee of Reuters Founder Share Company, which is charged with safeguarding Thomson Reuters independence, integrity and freedom from bias.

Reporting by Nelson Graves; Editing by John Chalmers and Hugh Lawson

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