Update: Watch the video of the event. Click here.
By Terence Lee
It started as a Facebook group protesting the censorship of campus media.
But feeling that more could be done, three Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students and an alumnus of the school went one step further -- they brought the protest to the Speaker's Corner.
About 80 people attended the "Stand Up for Media Freedom" protest held yesterday, which consisted mainly of students.
According to a press release for the event, the protest served as an "outreach" that aimed to raise awareness on media freedom for both the public and university population. A petition addressed to NTU president Su Guaning was also announced – calling for the original article about Dr Chee Soon Juan to be uncensored.
An earlier TOC report last month chronicled how some students were indignant because of NTU's decision to censor the campus media coverage of Dr Chee's visit to the university.
The article sparked off a chain of events, including the setting up of the Facebook group, the draping of a "Media Blackout" protest banner within the School of Communication & Information (SCI) compound by the same student organisers, as well as the setting up of an independent online newspaper called "The Enquirer" by a separate group of SCI students.
Last Saturday -- in an article for Today newspaper – NTU reiterated the stand that in cases like Dr Chee's visit to the campus, "there is the potential of an unsolicited visit being given publicity in furtherance of a political objective."
According to 24-year-old SCI student Scott Teng, a piece on tuition fee hikes was canned before it could be shown on NTU's broadcast television channel Spectrum TV.
At Hong Lim Park on Sunday, Ms Lim Yan Wen and Mr Thaddaeus Wee -- both 22-year-old students from SCI -- were busy rehearsing their speech for the last time before the crowd started trickling in. The protest started at 4.30pm.
"We were very nervous, and even though we're not out to antagonise anyone, we do fear what might happen after today. But we'll just have to see how it goes," said Ms Lim.
Speaking on the raised platform with a black "Responsible Press for the Students" banner facing the crowds, the first speaker, Mr Clarence Chua, 25, SCI graduate, told the audience: "We're not here to flame NTU or burn anyone's effigies."
Both Mr Chua and Mr Teng emphasised the fact that the protest was not a political one. Mr Teng also said that the issue is really not about Dr Chee, but about "how – according to the words of a professor – a 'bland, dull, sanitized, and totally harmless' article was censored."
Nevertheless, the SDP did make an appearance at the event. Ms Chee Siok Chin was seen throughout, but Dr Chee arrived only towards the end.
He said: "It's a good start that students want to take more interest in improving the quality of education here, which should not just be about hitting the books."
While the censorship incident had received some attention on the Internet, some students voiced doubts about the protest. Ms Lin An Chyi, a 23-year-old SCI student, saw herself more as a curious onlooker than a protester.
"While I disagree with the school's position, I wonder what is going to come out of this protest? I doubt it will make an impact. Frankly, not a lot of students are concerned about the censorship," she said.
Ms Adeline Setiawan, a 19-year-old sociology undergraduate from NUS, was equally skeptical at first.
She said: "At first I was unconvinced that such an incident should be brought to the public air. But after listening to the speakers, I realized that what happened has wider repercussions. They have a reason to bring it out of campus."
By the end of the event, the petition had garnered 66 signatures, with more to be collected in SCI this week. Meanwhile, Mr Chua already has plans to meet with the NTU president for a dialogue.
"I think it's time we bring the student's concerns to him," he said.
So far, the Speaker's Corner has seen much activity since rules for registration were relaxed last month. In September alone, the National Parks Board received a total of 31 registrations, 11 of which were indicated as public protests.
Pictures by Kelvin Khoo, Ma Xianrong and Sij. Click on pictures to enlarge.
A video of the event will be posted on TOC later tonight.