Updated: This is the updated version of the earlier report.
Terence Lee / Youth Editor
Dr Chee Soon Juan created a whirlwind when he paid a surprise visit to NTU, but left behind only a whimper as the university censored all campus news coverage of his arrival.
The latest issue of NTU’s campus newspaper, The Nanyang Chronicle , was published on Monday (15th September), and was slated to feature an article about Dr Chee’s visit. In the end, it featured only a visit of a different sort – that of the former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who is a stranger among Singaporean students.
On 26th August, the controversial opposition figure, together with several other Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leaders, visited NTU to distribute flyers and interact with the students. The NTU visit was part of a tour by the SDP to “raise political awareness,” and it included NIE, SMU and NUS as well. The NUS visit, which happened on 11th September, was covered by the university’s student-run online newspaper, The Campus Observer .
Student journalists from the Chronicle and NTU’s student-run news magazine programme, Nanyang Spectrum , were quick to converge on Dr Chee and the SDP members to conduct interviews.
Mr Philip Lim, 23, head of Nanyang Spectrum, was in-charge of producing the news clip for Dr Chee’s visit. Equipped with a video camera, he was on-site to document his visit, but he had trouble finding students to interview.
“This has never occurred to me before, even after many months on Spectrum. I suspect it’s due to the sensitivity of the topic,” he said.
He also recalled how some students whom he spoke to did not know who Dr Chee was. “Someone even asked me if he was the national table tennis coach who just got sacked!” he added. The question, in fact, is a misnomer; the coach in question, Mr Liu Guodong, is in talks to renew his contract with the Singapore Table Tennis Association to help prepare the national team for the 2012 London Olympics.
However, any excitement that their news items would appear on print or screen died down quickly. Mr Lim recalled how he had to remove two out of the three soundbites he planned to use, after some advice from his professors. Further edits were made thereafter, until he felt it was “neutral enough already.”
Despite these measures, the episode was shown for less than three days before the university’s corporate communications department ordered the episode to be taken off-the-air for good.
The article slated for the Nanyang Chronicle was also axed. (Picture, left: The in-house advertisement that was created to replace the Chee Soon Juan story.) After much negotiation between the paper’s teacher-advisors and the university, NTU president Su Guaning gave the article the go-ahead. However, he changed his mind at the last minute, and the article was removed just one day before the newspaper’s publication on Monday (15th September). Many of the student editors at the Chronicle were clearly indignant when they learnt about this.
One of them, 3rd year communications studies student Cheryl Ong, 21 — who is also the Chronicle’s news editor — wrote on her blog: “The reason given for the censorship left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t really talk about what my teacher told us, because it was mostly his conjecture—’They’ have yet to tell us the official reason.”
She also wrote how “a number of journalism students were rather disgruntled” when the incident transpired.
Chief editor Lin Junjie, 23, said that while they “do not necessarily agree with all executive decisions made by the owner or the publisher”, their journalists have “done their best” to cover every story, including the one that was censored.
“The situation wasn’t within our control as we’re funded by them,” he said.
According to Associate Professor Benjamin Detenber, Chair of NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI), which runs both campus media, the university’s position is that the story was killed because “there was a feeling of concern over the use of student media to publicise and promote the unsolicited views of an uninvited person to the campus.”
But 22-year-old NTU student Naresh Ethan Subhash, who is currently studying film, remained highly critical. He said: “I’m really frustrated. Being university students, we are people who can think for ourselves. If they want to create an institution of higher education, censoring the campus media is totally unacceptable.”
However, Mr Sng Weiliang, a 22 year-old business student, offered another perspective: “I guess they feel that younger people tend to be more myopic, that’s why they want to prevent us from being influenced.”
Literature student Elaine Lee, 20, felt that the censorship questions the student’s analytical ability.
“If we aren’t exposed to anything, how can we be expected to gauge one political view from another?” she added.
Headline picture from Campus Observer.