Singapore saw its fourth public protest on Sunday by a group of students campaigning against the censorship of two news stories in their campus media.
The protesters, three students and an alumnus from the communication school in Nanyang Technological University, made a series of speeches and urged participants to sign a petition to publish the canned article.
“We are not here to flame NTU… or to burn anyone’s effigies,” said Mr Clarence Chua, 25, one of the protesters and an alumni from the communications school.
Another protester and final-year student, Mr Scott Teng, 24, added: “We are not calling for anarchistic freedom… we are proposing responsible editorial independence.”
The other two organisers were Miss Lim Yan Wen and Mr Thaddaeus Wee, both 22.
The protest follows the university’s decision to pull out two news stories from the campus newspaper and broadcast media on a visit by the Singapore Democratic Party in September this year.
In a statement to the Today newspaper on Saturday, the university said it would not typically interfere in editorial matters of the campus media, but “in this case, there is the potential of an unsolicited visit being given publicity in furtherance of a political objective.”
The protesters said they had wanted to organise a dialogue with the university’s corporate communications office on this matter, but the office notified a professor about the request and he spoke to them instead.
“This [the protest] could all have been avoided if NTU just saw common sense,” Mr Chua said.
The speakers were quick to distance themselves from the Singapore Democratic Party leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, in their speeches.
“I want to be very clear, this issue has nothing to do with Chee Soon Juan or Chee Soon Juan’s political affiliations,” Mr Chua said.
Mr Teng added: “But rather, [this is] about the censorship of the news, and there are many, many lessons to be learnt from this.”
Still, the protest inevitably attracted several activists and members of the Singapore Democratic Party, including Dr Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin.
Another member present was assistant secretary-general of the opposition party, Mr John Tan.
He said he was pleasantly surprised that students were taking the initiative to protest against the censorship of news.
When asked if the party has plans to return to NTU, he said: “We’ll definitely be back again. We want to get in touch with students and to engage them.”
A participant asked Dr Chee Soon Juan what he felt about the university’s reason for censoring the story because his visit was uninvited, to which he replied: “The question is how do you get invited, and that is the million dollar question.”
Dr Chee also said he had written to the students’ union at both the Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore but received no reply.
The SDP had hoped to organise a political forum in NTU to discuss, among other matters, the censoring of the news reports on the party’s visit.
At the protest, conspicuously absent were members of the current editorial team at the campus newspaper and broadcast media, the Nanyang Chronicle and Nanyang Spectrum.
News editor of the Nanyang Chronicle, Ms Cheryl Ong, 21, declined a request by the organisers to speak at the protest.
“I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that the Chronicle or Spectrum is organising the event,” she said.
When asked what she thinks about the protest, Ms Ong said: “[The organisers] are very proactive even though they are not related to the Chronicle or Spectrum, as writers or as editors.
“But I don’t think the event will benefit the Chronicle or Spectrum in the long term because… the NTU administration might perceive us as antagonistic and create problems for the future editorial team.”
News editor of the Nanyang Spectrum, Mr Philip Lim, 23, similarly turned down a request to speak at the protest.
For Mr Lim, he said that the incident “has been rehashed ad nauseam” and does not wish to talk about it any more.
“This [the censorship] has not been a very pleasant experience, and I feel like I’m reliving the moment all over again by repeating the story over and over again,” Mr Lim said. “I’m very tired of this and just want to move on.”
However, Mr Lim said things would have been very different if the protesters had organised the protest in a more timely fashion, not when it has been “done and dusted”.
Billed as “The Big Hong Lim Show”, the protest almost became a gathering for journalists when only some 40 people—half of them armed with cameras, notebooks and pens—turned up by 4.30pm when the protest was due to start.
“It’s pretty small,” one journalist was overheard saying to another.
Another group of participants were overheard saying that there was not enough publicity for the event, which took place mostly on Facebook and through the Online Citizen, a website that aims to highlight issues in Singapore not covered by the mainstream press.
But by 5pm, half way through the second speaker’s speech, The Enquirer counted almost 110 people in the Speaker’s Corner at Hong Lim Park.
By the end of the event, 66 people have signed the petition asking the university’s president, Dr Su Guaning, to “reverse its decision regarding the censorship of the original article and publishing it firstly on the Chronicle website then on the next issue of the Chronicle.”
“This is good for a start,” said Mr Mohammad Khalis, 21, who attended the protest. “But I hope that this is not an one-off event or the end of it.”
But for now, the four protesters say they have no immediate plans on what they intend to do next.
The Enquirer will follow up with the university’s administration on their comments today.