World News

Singapore students protest university censorship

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - About 60 people gathered at a park in central Singapore on Sunday to protest against a university’s decision to censor news stories in the school media related to a prominent opposition politician.

Student Scott Teng (L) speaks to a small crowd during a protest at "Speaker's Corner" in Singapore October 5, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

The group, about half were students and former students from the Nanyang Technological University, were upset the school had stopped a news article and halted the airing of a news bulletin about Chee Soon Juan, a vocal critic of the government.

“This is not the first time the school has interfered with the publication of articles. Why must the school dictate certain articles for certain issues? It is stifling,” said Thaddaeus Wee, a second-year student from the university.

Protests are rare in Singapore, where public speeches and demonstrations are banned unless they are approved by the government, or take place at Speakers’ Corner.

Sunday’s protest was held at the Corner, modelled on London’s Hyde Park haven of free speech. The group -- large by Singapore’s standards -- clapped and cheered briefly after the four organisers spoke. A banner that said “Responsible press for the students” lay before the crowd.

Media in Singapore is tightly regulated, and the government says it is necessary to maintain social stability and help attract foreign investments to sustain economic growth. But critics say the tight regulation is a way for the government to stifle critics.

“It’s a historical thing to stand up publicly against our school. For the university to cancel the article, it is uncalled for,” said Alexis Cheong, who was standing in the crowd.

The university’s broadcast network had ran a news bulletin on Chee after he visited the school in late August to meet students and hand out fliers, said Clarence Chua, 25, a graduate from the university and one of the organisers of the protest.

But school officials pulled the bulletin off the airwaves after three days, and stopped a planned news article about Chee’s visit, citing concerns school media were airing “unsolicited views” from an “uninvited” person, Chua said.

University officials were not available to comment.

Chee, who was at the protest, said he was glad the students were making themselves heard. “It always takes one to step forward and the rest will follow,” he said.