The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry of Malaysia has apologised on Friday for a Chinese New Year greeting print advertisement that featured a picture of a barking rooster to mark the Year of the Dog.
The controversial full-page ad sparked a flood of mockery after it was printed on the Sin Chew Daily on Thursday. The image also showed the rooster barking the word "wang", which is usually used to represent a dog's bark in Mandarin.
The Chinese New Year will begin on February 16, 2018 and the Year of the Rooster will be ending, giving way to the Year of the Dog. In Malaysia, ethnic Chinese community makes up about a quarter of the population.
The ministry apologised a "million" times on its Facebook page in Malay and said that the mistake took place due to a technical error. However, many people think that the ad was a clumsy attempt to avoid using a dog image as the animals are considered unclean in Islam.
A Facebook user who goes by the name Tony Yeo said: "It reflects nothing but mere stupidity", while another user said the ad was a "national embarrassment". The user also accused the authorities of seeking to avoid using a canine picture: "There is nothing wrong with using the dog image as it's a Chinese Zodiac animal."
Meanwhile, several stores and shopping malls in the mostly Muslim country has shied away from prominently displaying dog imagery this year in fear of causing offence, amidst growing concern about Islamic conservatism.
Last year, at the same time Malaysia Airlines created a buzz online with its Chinese New Year Video of non-Chinese Malaysians offering New Year wishes in various Chinese dialects. The 1.41-minute video had showed mostly Malays and Indians wishing Malaysians a very Happy Chinese New Year in Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien fluently.
The clip titled "A truly Malaysian greeting" received more than 750,000 views and more than 12,000 shares in just one day. The video encouraged Malaysians to get together, return home and be with their family.