When a proposed discussion about a spate of press censorship was disallowed within the premises of Nanyang Technological University, a group of undergraduates and an alumnus decided to take matters outside.
They organised a protest, “Stand Up for Media Freedom on Campus,” held at Hong Lim Park on Oct. 05, after permission to hold an event on NTU campus to discuss about censorship issues was not granted.
A press release issued by the organisers before the Hong Lim protest, said, “Attempts to air their views within campus got vetoed in a manner similar to the initial news censorship… it will now seek a public platform to respond and spread awareness.”
The initial news censorship that sparked off a chain of events occurred when the NTU administration canned a campus newspaper article and broadcast video report by student journalists.
The coverage was centred on an informal visit to NTU by Chee Soon Juan, oppositional political figure and secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, on Aug. 26 and 28.
Scott Teng, aged 24, fourth-year NTU undergraduate and protest organiser, said in his speech, “The university’s position on this was that the visit was an unsolicited, uninvited visit, and they do not want The (Nanyang) Chronicle to be a platform for any political ideologies.”
The print article for The Nanyang Chronicle, NTU’s newspaper produced by students, was pulled a day before it was scheduled to be published.
The video broadcast by Nanyang Spectrum, a news magazine programme also by students, was allowed for three days on the university’s television network before it was removed.
The decision to axe both reports was made by the NTU administration.
Protest organiser and second-year NTU undergraduate, Thaddaeus Wee, said, “The administration is informed (about the Hong Lim protest) and they did not really respond. But we are here to raise awareness about the censorship issue. It is about engaging the public and those involved.”
About 100 people showed up to listen to speeches made by three undergraduates and an alumnus from the NTU Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
The speeches talked about the need for a student press that is free and responsible in its reporting.
In his speech, Clarence Chua, a 25-year-old recent graduate of NTU and protest organiser, said, “We are not here today to campaign for a free-for-all. We are here today for a larger cause: Responsible editorial independence.”
A black banner lying on the ground had the words “Responsible press for students” spray painted on it.
Even though the message of the protest was focused on establishing a freer student press, it was the lack of confidence in the students operating as journalists that affected some the most.
“As an ex-managing editor of The Nanyang Chronicle, I was very hurt and very saddened to learn of the censorship of the paper,” said Lim Yan Wen, a fourth-year NTU undergraduate and protest organiser.
Lim also said, “For the Chronicle to continue existing as a respectable, fair and honourable student-run newspaper, editorial independence is important.”
Besides giving speeches, the organisers prepared a public petition to be sent to Su Guaning, president of NTU, to request for the canned print article to be published in the next issue of the newspaper.
One reason for the students fight to get the article published is because it was judged to be “harmless” in the first place.
Teng, said, “In fact, to quote a few professors who prefer to remain anonymous, ‘it was bland, dull, and totally harmless’.”
Chee, the man whose initial visit led to the NTU administration stepping in to regulate content, was among those who attended the protest.
Asked if he felt responsible for the protest, Chee said, “I plead guilty.”
However, Chee added that there is a need to engage students and for them to use their own judgement to decide if censorship is acceptable.
Chee said, “What are we doing in a university? We don’t need to shelter the students from information. They can decide for themselves and think whether they want to protest.”
According to Teng, the organisers of the protest are unsure about what to do next if the university administration does not respond to their petition.
But they felt that they have achieved their aim for now.
Teng said, “I don’t know if we will come down for another protest. We might, but we shall see.”