In the aftermath of public outcry over the abrupt change of speakers at a Raffles Hall Association (RHA) alumni talk, organisers of the talk have announced that the event is “closed to the public.”

Raffles Hall is a residential hall at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The event titled ‘Public Discourse: Truth & Trust’ originally featured media studies professor Cherian George from Hong Kong Baptist University and economics professor Donald Low from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Initially slated to be held this Saturday (1 November), the forum aimed to discuss the “integrity of media and freedom of public discourse, with specific reference to their new book PAP v PAP.”

However, about 10 days after announcing the event, RHA president Sonny Yuen posted on Facebook that there will be an entirely new slate of speakers, comprising former journalist Al Ramirez Dizon, RH Resident Fellow and Lecturer Shoba Avadhani, and the Institute of Policy Studies’ Special Research Adviser Arun Mahizhnan.

Mr Mahizhnan said in a Facebook comment, however, that he has withdrawn from the forum, adding that he was not aware that the previous line up of speakers had already been publicised.

Prof George told TOC that he received a call from the organisers last Friday informing him that they were to cancel the event.

However, they received no updates on the matter after that.

He and Prof Low were “left to piece two and two together based on what we saw on social media”, said Prof George.

Following the fiasco, Mr Yuen posted in the RHA Facebook group to apologise for the changes and to clarify that the RHA Learning events are private events, especially for RH Alumni.

The post read: “…We apologise to the alumni for the changes that have to be made re the speakers, but we continue the important conversations on the today’s (social) media world where we apparently can no longer trust what we read, see or hear.

“Please note that all RHA Learning events are private events for RH Alumni only. As this is a closed-door community and voluntary event, the programme and its contents are developed at the organizer’s discretion,” he added.

Yesterday (29 October), Prof Low addressed the issue in a Facebook post of his own, saying that he is “not unhappy” with how things turned out.

“Of course, I’m a bit cheesed off with the lack of collegiality and courtesy by the organisers who did not even email me to tell me the event has been cancelled. But I’m glad that I no longer have to speak on a Sunday evening to what is likely to be a small audience,” he said.

“Neither my co-author nor I had asked to be invited for this. And the free publicity generated by the Raffles Hall fiasco has boosted book sales by more than the “lost” audience,” added Prof Low.

PAP vs PAP is an anthology of Prof George and Prof Low’s commentaries on Singapore politics. It also includes new essays in response to the events of 2020 thus far.

The book explores one aspect of the inner struggle experienced by the titular ruling People’s Action Party “between a conservative attachment to what worked in the past, and a boldly progressive vision for the future”.

Both Prof George and Prof Low are known to be outspoken critics of the establishment and moved to Hong Kong to continue with their respective careers in academia.

Update on 2/11/2020:

It appears the RHA notified registered participants that they received overwhelming response to the event—originally slated to feature Profs George and Low—saying that they would provide participants with a new link to the forum.

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