NTU pulls plug on report on SDP visit

The Online Citizen (TOC), a news blog, has reported that officials at the Nanyang Technological University have killed two news stories that were due to be reported by the school’s student newspaper, the Nayang Chronicle, and news programme, Nanyang Spectrum.

The Singapore Democrats were at NTU on two occasions in a series of visits to universities in Singapore. Student reporters asked to interview Dr Chee on both occasions when he and his colleagues were at the Nanyang campus. (See here and here)

Su Guaning

Su Guaning

Unfortunately NTU president, Dr Su Guaning, got cold feet at the last minute and pulled the story in the Chronicle. The University’s corporate communications department also told the Nanyang Spectrum that the episode would not be broadcast.

Ironically, Dr Chee’s message to the students was that their climate of censorship and fear was anathema to a first-rate education that the students have a right to expect (read Dr Chee’s letter to students here).

The student-reporters had showed initiative and drive to keep their fellow students informed about an event they considered newsworthy.

But their mind-guardians felt that somehow the students are intellectually unable to read and watch such news. This is censorship at its most hideous.

TOC also quoted Associate Professor Benjamin Detenber, who chairs the University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, as saying that “there was a feeling of concern over the use of student media to publicise and promote the unsolicited and uninvited visit of Dr Chee to the campus.”

Whose concern was Professor Detenber referring to? President Su’s? The faculty’s? The Government’s?

What exactly is the concern? That the Government might frown upon the how the reports came about? Or that the students might be politically led astray after reading and watching such news?

Is the university not a place where old notions are challenged in the hope to expand the mind? With professorial attitudes fixated on PAP-correctness, how are the students and the university as an institution going to grow?

Is no one going to challenge the boundaries? Is freedom of thought just a hip phrase to parrot but not practice?

If any good is going to come from this episode, it is that the journalism students have received an invaluable lecture on the difference between what is taught in class versus how the profession is practiced in real life Singapore.

This is not the first time that University officials have stopped Dr Chee from interacting with students. Almost ten years ago, the SDP leader was stopped by National University of Singapore officials from speaking to students on campus. Below is the report:

Police halt politician’s speech on campus
Hong Kong Standard
22 Jan 1999

(Reuters) An opposition politician campaigning for free speech was blocked from talking to students at Singapore’s top university after police told him to leave the campus.

Chee Soon Juan, leader of the small Singapore Democratic Party, was told for the second time in a week to leave the National University of Singapore (NUS) by police and officials after attempting to address a crowd of more than 100 students.

“I’m very glad that you’ve come out in numbers today. Unfortunately I’ve just been told that this is private property and I can’t speak to you,” Mr Chee said, handing out flyers as he left.

He said he was warned when distributing leaflets at NUS last week that he could be charged with criminal trespass.

University officials say he can speak if invited by students. Mr Chee says students are pressured into not doing so.

Mr Chee, 36, was charged in court for an offence under the Public Entertainment Act this month after giving a speech without a permit, an offence carrying a fine of up to Singapore $5000. A fine of more than S$2000 would bar him from standing for election for five years.

He pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial on 1 February. Mr Chee says his right to free speech under the constitution is being violated and wants President Ong Teng Cheong to refer his case to the Constitutional Court.

But Minister of State for Law and for Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee said it was “a procedural requirement. It does not affect the substantive right of speech”.

“Of course, when you speak in public… you have to take into account other laws” such as those against defamation and aimed at maintaining the peace, he has said.

Mr Chee said his campaign would go on.

“I’m not sure if it’s going to be next week, but I’ll certainly be speaking again. We’ll have to see how the trial goes and then we’ll make a decision on where and when after that.”

Mr Chee is due to appear in court on Friday to be charged for a second offence under the Act after making a speech to a crowd of about 800 people in downtown Singapore earlier this month.

Mr Chee has been risking arrest since embarking on a series of speeches in protest against a system that requires permission for public speaking, where key media are state-controlled and an Internal Security Act allows for imprisonment without trial.

Mr Chee, whose party is not represented in parliament, says it stifles public debate and is designed to make it hard for opposition voices to be heard.

But officials like Mr Ho say Singapore’s strong government is the one most people want and ample chances exist to be heard.

Mr Ho, a member of the People’s Action Party which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, has said Mr Chee was using the permit system as an excuse to defy the law.

But Mr Chee said that was not his intent.

“I’ve got a message to get out to Singaporeans that we cannot go on the way that we’ve been doing.”


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