Silence and protest in Singapore’s censorship debates
On May 3, 2008 – World Press Freedom Day – six political activists gathered outside the fence of Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) headquarters in Toa Payoh North. They rolled out a series of banners made from sheets of newspaper, each emblazoned with a slogan decrying Singapore’s press controls. “Free press, free minds” said one. “Newspaper and printing presses act = repression,” read another. The activists used the internet to circulate a statement and photographs of themselves and their homemade banners, with SPH’s News Centre in the background (Chong et al. 2008). Inside News Centre that day, up to 1,000 journalists and other media professionals would have been working to put out SPH’s several daily newspaper titles, including the country’s newspaper of record, The Straits Times, and its sister publications in Chinese and Malay. If Singapore were a more typical country, one would have expected at least some professional journalists to support the activists’ stand for press freedom. Instead, the activists’ voices seemed to dissolve into nothingness. Despite its newsworthiness as a quite unprecedented act, the protest was not reported by the mainstream news media. Perhaps this was because the press was too caught up with its own observances of World Press Freedom Day? No; the occasion as a whole was simply ignored by Singapore’s newspapers.