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Opposition Party documents local media bias

'Media has refused to publish Party's press releases and replies'

Jan 12, 1999.

THE Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said the local media in Singapore has breached journalistic ethics by refusing the Party a right of reply.

In a statement this week the SDP claimed the Singapore media has refused to publish its press releases and replies.

The Party said its statement of October 29 last year announcing a public conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was completely blacked out.

Next the SDP's reply to a Strait Times report Approval for SDP talk was not delayed, says police (Dec 30, 1998) was also not published.

The Straits Times then refused to publish Dr Chee Soon Juan's reply to a reader's letter: Don't Push Your Luck, Dr Chee (ST Jan 2).

Since then, the Straits Times published two more letters Chee offers no solutions to crisis (Jan 6) and Chee can't change laws by defying it (Jan 11). The latter was written by PAP's Dr S Vasoo whose statement was published twice in the Straits Times. The Television Corporation read out Dr Vasoo's letter on the news. The SDP statement said the station consistently refused to report anything that Dr Chee has said.

"Not giving one the right of reply is a clear breach of journalistic ethics. The PAP government has always insisted on not only the right of reply, but a full and unedited one, from the international media publishing or circulating in Singapore," the statement said.

When publications fail to do this the government curtails the circulation of the particular newspaper or magazine. Such action has been imposed on Time, Asian Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Far Eastern Economic Review.

"Yet, the Singapore government continues to deny the SDP publication of its statements and its right of reply.

"More importantly, Singaporeans must ask what is the PAP trying to hide by not publishing the SDP's statements and questions," the statement concluded.

Press Release: SDP's reply to a Strait Times report

The denial by the police for delaying the SDP's permit to hold a public conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights raises two important questions.

One, why, in the first place, is a political party required to apply for a permit to organise a public conference when the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore clearly guarantees its citizens freedoms of assembly, speech and association?

Secondly, why does it require the police three weeks to approve a simple application for a permit? The length of time needed for the approval is arbitrarily set by the authorities - we have been told on some occasions that a minimum of 4 weeks was necessary. Other times, the period extended to 6 weeks.

If and when the permit is approved it is usually given just a couple of days before the event itself, making it impossible for the organiser to plan for the function. One Workers' Party application was rejected just hours before the start of the event.

It would be a mistake, however, to hold the police responsible for such an unconstitutional practice. It is the PAP that is instituting such measures as a form of political control to stifle the free flow of information and to thwart public debate. The issue of permits for public forums is but only one aspect of the ruling party's efforts to deny the people of their basic freedoms. Through the inculcation of fear amongst the public, the SDP has consistently been denied means of communicating with the people:

Where the PAP cannot intimidate, it suppresses:

Taking into consideration all the above, it is clear that the aim of the government is not whether a permit for a particular event is granted or not, but that it is continuing its undemocratic and unconstitutional effort to suffocate democracy in Singapore.

Wong Hong Toy
Assistant Secretary General
Singapore Democratic Party
December 30 1998

Dr Chee Soon Juan's reply to a ST reader's letter

In his admonition of my giving a public talk without a permit, Mr Alex Ren Ziming (ST, Jan 2) has not provided considered arguments.

First, I agree that breaking the law is a serious matter which must not be taken lightly. Laws passed by a government which exist for the good and order of society must be obeyed. There are, unfortunately, also laws which governments lay down to serve the ruling elite's own interests and to keep it in power. These laws are perverse. Laws which discriminated against blacks during the apartheid years in South Africa and laws which imprison people in China for forming opposition political parties (witness Mr Xu Wenli and colleagues) are examples. They must be opposed.

I have resorted to speaking directly to the people only because every other alternative has been exhausted. The SDP's press releases have been censored either in part or wholly, its video-tape banned, election material disallowed on the Internet, and applications for public conferences refused or delayed. I have also been fined for selling my book To Be Free which major bookstores will not sell.

In Singapore, the constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedoms of speech, assembly and association. In addition Singapore is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which requires governments to protect such fundamental freedoms. Since coming to power on the back of the democratic process, however, the PAP has passed laws to restrict, and in many cases, remove the rights and freedoms that underpin the spirit of democracy. Not only is this unfair but egregiously unconstitutional. As a citizen of this country, I am obliged to challenge the ruling party, whose interests cannot supersede that of the country, on such unjust and undemocratic laws.

The irony is that even as the PAP makes the rules, it also breaks them - repeatedly. Some instances:

Mr Ren then excoriates me for criticising Singaporeans for giving aid to the Indonesian people, something which I did not do. He was obviously confused by the terrible reporting of the Straits Times which reinforces my notion of speaking directly to the people.

I questioned the Singapore government's rationale for pledging a $17 billion loan to the Suharto regime despite the dictator's corrupt ways. Knowing this, did Mr Goh Chok Tong impose written conditions that would ensure that the funds would be used for stipulated purposes? If yes, where is the agreement? If no, why not? Given the appalling record of Suharto's penchant for siphoning off foreign aid money to his family members and cronies, why was such a stupendously huge amount pledged in such a stupendously callous manner? And why was there such confusion as to whether the loan came under IMF conditions? Most importantly, why were the people not consulted on the decision to pledge so much of public money to so unstable a regime?

When I said "you get a better deal when women are raped, when people get sent to prison, tortured and killed…" I was referring to the military regime illegally running Burma. Why is our money aiding a murderous dictatorship that crushed a popularly elected government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? Another important point I made about our relations with Burma (and which was not reported by the Straits Times) was our government's business involvement with Burmese drug lord Lo Hsing-han. Why is the PAP government hanging small time drug peddlers in Singapore while at the same time doing business with the family of a world-renowned heroin producer and trafficker?

More so now than ever, Singaporeans must question the policies of the government, which if they examine closely, will realise that these policies have contributed significantly to the present economic crisis that Singapore finds itself in. The easy way out is for the government to blame our neighbours. This spells danger for our future because the PAP has still not shown any signs of changing its non-transparent and non-accountable ways.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary General
Singapore Democratic Party
January 4,1999

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