You will now be creative!

The quotations below are from an article in the Telegraph’s art section from London. It refers to the Singapore Arts invasion of Britain, which has been widely advertised and receiving favourable reviews. Singapore Dance Theatre is singled out for notable praise as well as a few other acts. I have only praise for the Singapore Dance Theatre which I have seen perform on numerous occassions after having been reluctantly dragged along to a performance.

The rest of the article places the cultural projects that are currently taking place in the wider context of altering Singapore’s image and hopefully resulting in more tourists and ex-pat businesses.

Art for arts sake?

(Filed: 26/02/2005)

Singapore has pumped billions into new cultural projects – but can art be made in a test tube? By Peter Culshaw

Could you name a famous Singapore artist or musician? Neither could I, until I spent a few days in the city state recently. Despite a push for the arts that began a decade ago, it is still seen as a country that has had great economic success, but is rather dull and authoritarian. This is the place that famously banned chewing gum, where it is illegal to be gay, where freedom of expression is limited and there is strict censorship. Good for shopping, but not promising as a new global centre of the arts. The writer William Gibson called it “Disneyland with the death penalty”.

Singapore Dance Theatre

Eminently exportable: Singapore Dance Theatre

There are several reasons for all this activity in the arts. One is that Singapore’s dull image was bad for tourism and for ex-pat businesses choosing where to base themselves. More significantly, an economy that was less dependent on manufacturing and more on information and software had to encourage innovation and creativity. However, there is a sense in Singapore of the development being a top-down phenomenon. One has the impression of officials giving directives: “You will now be creative! The country needs it!”


It was hard to gauge from a brief visit how repressive the country really is. Although homosexuality is illegal, there have been many plays with gay themes, and there are a lot of gay bars. Few plays have actually been banned, although writing that could inflame racial tension is seen as especially sensitive. But there does seem to be a lot of self-censorship going on. Several times when we visited arts groups, artists looked anxiously at the omnipresent representative of the National Arts Council if awkward subjects were raised. It reminded me of visiting Cuba in the ’80s on an official visit when there was a Communist Party member with journalists at all times.


As the poet DJ Enright put it when he was a lecturer in Singapore, “Art does not begin in a test tube.” Singapore may have the energy and resources to achieve its ambition to become a global arts centre, but there remains a sense if not exactly of fear, then of terminal uptightness.


Still, there were fascinating and strange collisions of music to be heard in nightclubs. And moments when I felt a real flash of the future, of what could emerge from this Blade Runner-ish fusion of technology and ancient culture. The highlight was an art installation, Andy Forever, which featured the Hong Kong action actor Andy Leow, showing death scenes from 120 of his films. The result was an evocative, poetic meditation on modern media and mortality. Just imagine what they might come up with now they can chew gum…

Singapore Season, at various venues until April 5.


Remember Nguyen Tuong Van?

Nguyen Tuong Van faces the death penalty

I just stumbled across your blog and I thought you maybe interested in the following article. Feel free to use it as you feel is appropriate.

Gary Meyerhoff


Remember Nguyen Tuong Van?

By Gary Meyerhoff, 25th February 2005

Days to execution: Unknown

As far as I know, 24-year-old Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van is still in a cell at Singapore’s Changi Prison facing execution. He will be given less than 24 hours notice of his hanging; and we won’t be told until it is done. The Australian Government and our media are failing him miserably. After ten months on death row, Nguyen Tuong Van should be a household name.

I remember back when I was eleven years old. I was at a friend’s place and like most Australian homes the television was blaring constantly in the background. I vividly remember stopping to watch a report that Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers had been executed and I remember a horrible feeling as I tried to make sense of what had just happened.

Barlow and Chambers were hanged in Malaysia on July 07, 1986 for the alleged trafficking of 141.9 grams of heroin. Back then, I didn’t really know what heroin was, but I knew who Barlow and Chambers were.

The Australian media lapped up the Barlow and Chambers case, using it to sell more and more newspapers and to increase the ratings on their news and current affairs
programs. Australia’s press gallery went into a frenzy in an attempt to save the men.

For political reasons, this media pressure backfired. Rajendran Kuppusamy, the Malaysian hangman who performed the executions, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper in 1996 that the case was rushed through the Malaysian legal system.

“The Attorney-General wanted us to make it fast, he didn’t want to delay the case,” said Kuppusamy. “It was really fast because they were getting pressure from all over.”

Facing an election, Malaysian President Dr Mahathir Mohamad was under immense pressure to show that he was the man prepared to stand-up against the West – against White people.

Once the executions had happened the Australian news barons dropped the story as quickly as the two young Australians had dropped through the trapdoor in Pudu Prison.

The journalists returned to their usual mundanereporting and the issue was dead. They might havefailed to prevent the executions, and possibly even contributed to the executions being rushed, but Australia’s press gallery had succeeded in imprinting the names Barlow and Chambers firmly in the Australian psyche.

Almost twenty years after the deaths of Barlow and Chambers, Nguyen Tuong Van, on his first trip overseas from Australia, was arrested at Singapore airport. Police alleged that Nguyen was in possession of 400g of heroin. A Singapore court sentenced him to death for this crime in March 2004.

In stark contrast to events in 1986, Nguyen Tuong Van has been virtually ignored by the Australian Government and the media. Michael Fay, the white American kid who damaged a car or two and was flogged by the Singapore Government with the rattan cane, received more attention from the Australian media than this young Aussie from Melbourne. Nguyen Tuong Van is definitely not a household name!

Why are the media ignoring Nguyen? Is it because they can’t pronounce his name or is the real reason a little more insidious than that? I mean, Schapelle Corby doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and she has been turned into a media celebrity, not to mention the millionaire Aussie yachtsman Chris Packer, recently released from an Indonesian jail after serving three months for failing to declare firearms.

I don’t want to take away from the seriousness of Schapelle’s situation. This young woman may also face the death penalty if she is found guilty of her alleged crime. Her trial has even been invaded by an Indonesian anti-drugs group demanding her execution.

With regards to media reporting though, there is obviously some sort of double standard happening.

Brian Chambers, Kevin Barlow, Schapelle Corby and Chris Packer all have one thing in common. They are all white Australians. Nguyen Tuong Van’s crime is that he is an Australian of Vietnamese origin. Australia’s predominantly white journalists (and our
white Prime Minister) have written him off as just another Viet boy dealing smack, just like they write off the residents of the Block in Redfern and Cabramatta in Sydney.

Like Singapore’s judiciary, they ignore Nguyen’s claims that he was only carrying the drugs in a desperate bid to pay off legal fees owed by his twin brother to a Sydney-based drugs syndicate. During a recent visit to Singapore, Australian Prime
Minister John Howard held a meeting with his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong where he put forward a half-hearted request for clemency. Mr Howard told the Melbourne Age; “I believe there’s a very good case for clemency but people must understand that the laws of Singapore are well known and I think we’ll leave it at
that.” Responding to the Age reporters question on whether the execution of Nguyen would have an impact on bilateral relations between the two countries, Howard said: “Look, I think we have to keep a balance here.” What he is saying is that Australia’s military relationship with Singapore is worth more to us economically than Nguyen Tuong Van. The Republic of Singapore Air Force has aircraft and personnel
permanently stationed at the Pearce air force base north of Perth and Singaporean fighter jets and naval vessels are regularly in and out of the Northern Australian city of Darwin. Australian military personnel provide ongoing training to Singapore’s
soldiers, sailors and airmen and Australian naval vessels are often in Singapore undergoing repairs that would cost ten times as much back home. Our military alliance and the subsequent boost to the Australian economy is not the only reason Howard is dragging his feet on this case. Singapore isn’t in the midst of an election and there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure from Singaporeans for Nguyen to be put to death. Sadly it looks like race is a factor in Howard’s laissez faire approach to Nguyen’s pending execution. Surely little Johnny wouldn’t let a white
boy hang so easily? If Nguyen was called Barry and he was from Vaucluse or Sydney’s North Shore, Howard would be doing everything in his power to stop the hanging. The Australian Prime Minister is acutely aware that the island nation has executed more than four hundred people since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving Singapore the dubious distinction of having the highest execution rate in the world relative to
population. If Nguyen hangs, Howard will have the dubious distinction of being the Prime Minister who sat by while a young Australian went to the gallows, just like he sat by while 353 asylum seekers drowned in the SievX disaster. Nguyen awaits the results of John Howard’s request for clemency. We can only hope and pray that 81-year-old Singaporean President, Sellapan Ramanathan Nathan, will find it in his heart to call off the execution. In the meantime, you might want to contact your localmedia and ask them one question; do they rememberNguyen Tuong Van?

As for Schapelle, we train Indonesia’s troops too. This could be a sticky one for the Australian PrimeMinister. Let’s just hope that she gets a fair trial and that some sanity prevails in Bali.

[End article]

Gary Meyerhoff is a freelance journalist and an active member of the Darwin-based drug law-reform group the Network Against Prohibition (

This article was published in the NAPNT email digeston the 25th of February 2005. If you would like toreceive the full NAP newsletter you can subscribe to the NAPNT yahoogroup at the following link:

More resources on Nguyen Tuong Van:
A plea to Singapore President

Article on Barlow and Chambers

Singapore upholds death penalty for Australian

Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty

Wikipedia article on Singapore’s President Sellapan

Wikipedia article on Singapore

For more info on SievX see

This article on the NAP website (with some more media

Poll Results

The name Singabloodypore is offensive.
Yes, strongly agree. 24.78%
Yes, I agree. 11.06%
Don’t know. 2.65%
No, I disagree. 21.68%
No, Strongly disagree. 39.82%

Total votes : 226

So the majority voice wins with a significant lead.

Strict Censorship and Tame Press

Everythings FINE Here

The following article was rejected by ST Forums, TODAY and SPH.

Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2003 06:24:51 +0100 (BST)
Mellanie Hewlitt
Subject: Backman’s got it Right – Strict Censorship and Tame Press

To: ST Forums
Singapore Press Holdings

Dear Sir

I refer to the letter from K Bhavani (Ms), Press Secretary to the Minister for
Information, Communications and the Arts in the 13 Oct 2003 issue of TODAY. Ms Bhavani stated (amongst other things) that:

“Singaporeans have access to 10 daily local newspapers, over 5,500 foreign publications and newspapers, seven free-to-air TV channels, numerous radio
channels and 37 subscription TV channels, including BBC World and CNN”

Ms Bhavani’s letter and statements should be read with the following qualifications in mind;

1. STATE CONTROL OF THE MEDIA IN SINGAPORE IS SO COMPLETE that few dare challenge the system and there is no longer much need for the ruling party to arrest or harass journalists. Even foreign correspondents have learned to be cautious when reporting on Singapore, since the government has frequently hauled the international press into court to face lengthy and expensive libel suits.

2. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) controls most local media, through its close ties with Singapore Press Holdings, whose newspaper monopoly ended only in 2000, and through state ownership of most broadcast media. Strict press licensing requirements make it impossible for independent newspapers to emerge, and journalists have been taught to think of themselves not as critics but as partners of the state in “nation-building.”

3. Satellite television dishes are banned for all but a handful of users, and cable television is a state monopoly. While the Internet has been censored onlyhalf-heartedly, the government has been aggressive in promoting its own sites to disseminate information about state policies and procedures. “Alternative New Groups” like Singapore Review, The Optical etc are often victimised and subject to harassment and persecution under local laws.

4. In response to calls for more diverse media voices in the country, a handful of new free tabloid newspapers were launched (TODAY, STREATS, NEWPAPER to name a few). These publications, which look but do not read like free alternative newspapers in the United,States, were are controlled by corporations affiliated with the government. Singapore Press Holdings (in which Temasek Holdings retains a stake) owns and manages all the local newspapers circulated in Singapore (including the chinese and tamil editions).

5. In an apparent effort to create the illusion of free competition, Singapore
Press Holdings received permission to run TV and radio stations. This was hardly a risky move for the government, since the company’s chief executive used to head the Singapore internal security agency, and its board chairman was an ex-cabinet minister and close confidant of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. Meanwhile, the state-owned broadcasting giant Media Corporation of Singapore, was awarded a license to publish one of the free newspapers, Today. In August, The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading daily, described this shuffling of a stacked deck as a “newspaper war.”

6. Previously, public speaking without a license was banned everywhere in the country. In September, authorities allowed a Hyde Park-style Speaker’s Corner to open in a local park. There seemed to be little public interest in the handful of eager speakers at the new venue, however. In fact, it is a revelation that it is still illegal to assemble in groups of more then 5 in apublic place without a permit.

7. Singapore is a country which has adoted the FORM of a written constitution, but has not applied the actual spirit of a the written constitution into daily practise in the course of state administration. Mere lip service is given to public policies which are meant to showcase to the world the existence of a free press/free speech social-political environment in Singapore.

8. Singapore also has the dubious honour of being on the black list of several free-speech/free press organisations like CPJ (Committee To Protect Journalists) as well as Amnesty International. Please feel free to visit their websites below.

9. Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of what many critics have called Singapore’s “nanny state,” remained the object of fawning praise in local media. In a volume of memoirs published in October, Lee argued that the authoritarian system he created, which closed independent newspapers and jailed some journalists after independence in 1959, was more responsive to the needs of his people than the flawed democracies in other Asian countries.

“I said I did not accept that a newspaper owner had the right to print whatever he liked,” Lee wrote of a 1971 appearance at the International Press Institute’s annual assembly in Helsinki. “Unlike Singapore’s ministers, he and his journalists were not elected. My final words to the conference were: ‘Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.'”

In 2003, this unfortunate view continued to guide Singapore’s media
policy. Strict censorship and a tame press continue to characterize the press freedom climate in the city-state, which promulgated regulations designed to keep a range of prohibited information from reaching its citizens by the Internet. Using the threat of costly lawsuits, harsh national security legislation, and decades of indoctrination, Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party, which has been in power since independence in 1959, has fashioned a predictably bland media culture.

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd., a private corporation with close ties to the government, controls all general-circulation newspapers. The government-linked Singapore International Media PTE Ltd. has a virtual monopoly on broadcasting. Satellite dishes are banned with few exceptions. The government has successfully prosecuted numerous domestic and foreign journalists in the past, and as a result of previous run-ins with the government, many foreign publications have their circulation strictly controlled by the government. Such is the case with The Asian Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and Asia Week, the three leading regional news publications.

The Internet regulations allow unhindered access for commercial users while preventing private users from having access to a wide range of sites. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA) requires Internet service providers to block sites the government identifies as taboo because of their political or sexual content. The SBA also requires political and religious societies to register their Singapore-based websites. Singapore’s government has set a goal of becoming a regional center for both on-line commerce and Internet-control technology. The government considers its Internet controls to be a success and an example to other nations in the region, but the tightly regulated environment for the press at all levels in Singapore is anathema to the promise of unhindered information flow promised by the Internet.

Perhaps you may care to shed further light on the above. My final word is that the government’s stand on free press issues (which is echoed by your respective papers) is reflected by the fact that this letter will never see publication in any SPH paper in its original unedited form.

Yours faithfully

Mellanie Hewlitt
Singapore Review

Feeling Paranoid Yet?

Big Brother

Couple the recently introduced ‘infrastructure’ outlined below with the following quote from Garry Rodan (1997):

A central feature of the Singapore strategy on Internet control is the attempt to bring this medium under the same tight regimen as other electronic and non-electronic media. Penalties are applied at various levels of information provision or newsgroup hosting. These combine with legislation, open to wide interpretation, outlawing “interference in domestic politics” (as in the case of international press) or content which “brings the government into hatred or contempt” (as in the internet). When the political will to obstruct certain information and views is coupled with such variables as an efficient and technically competent bureaucracy, an established regime of political intimidation and surveillance, and embedded corporatist structures facilitating cooperation between state officials and administrators across public and private sectors, you have a formidable mix.

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore is to spend $23 million over three years to battle online hackers and other forms of “cyber-terrorism” in one of the world’s most connected countries, government officials said Tuesday.

Describing the infrastructure behind the Internet as a “nerve system” in Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan said a new National Cyber-Threat Monitoring Center would maintain round-the-clock detection and analysis of computer virus threats.

“We cannot afford to treat the threats from cyber terrorists, cyber criminals and irresponsible hackers lightly,” Tan said in a speech while unveiling an information-technology security “master plan” in the tech-savvy city-state.

“Infocomm security is as important in protecting Singapore as is physical security at our borders,” added Tan, who is also Coordinating Minister for Security and Defense.

Singapore has one of the world’s highest Internet penetration rates, with 50-60 percent of its 4.2 million people living in homes wired to the Internet.

The affluent, predominantly ethnic Chinese island has also steadily tightened security since the September 2001 attacks on the United States, from patrols of heavily armed police in busy shopping districts to tighter security at border points.

In 2003, Singapore passed strict legislation to allow monitoring of all computer activity and for police to take pre-emptive action to protect state computers from cyber attack.

Tan said the money would also be used to help businesses tighten security for online financial transactions while guiding them to work with the government in maintaining cyber security.

The Cyber-Threat Monitoring Center will link up with companies that provide anti-virus systems and governments running similar centers, including the United States and Australia. It is expected to be fully operational by the second half of 2006.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Singapore girls – a challenge to love

Yet again the finger of patriarchy points at the female…

Star, Malaysia
February 13, 2005

Insight Down South By Seah Chiang Nee

EDUCATED and financially independent, the new Singaporean woman is running into a wall of male traditions that is leaving some holes in their relationship, including marriage.
The trend had been building up over a couple of decades. In few other countries have women made larger strides in education and careers than in Singapore.

During the past few decades they have caught up with, and even overtaken, men in fields they had once dominated.

In university, women still outnumber men 55-45 with many moving strongly into subjects like media, mathematics, law and engineering, among others.

Recently girls won seven of the top 11 awards for A-level Physics, which had long been a boys’ domain.

Island-wide, women have moved into the highest ranks of the corporate world and commanded artillery units or police divisions, as well as trained jetfighter pilots. Ten women, aged 20-40, are planning to climb Mount Everest.

In short, the new female is able, confident and more than holding up half the heavens, but not getting equal success in their relationship with men.

This is running smack into a traditional male value of wanting to be seen wearing the pants, causing a growing “incompatibility”.

To continue reading…

More join unions in strike-free republic

Star, Malaysia
February 20, 2005

Insight Down South By Seah Chiang Nee

SOME 40 workers of a small company making industrial fans decided to form a trade union since it was, for the first time in years, turning in a small profit.
For the past few years, their firm was losing money or breaking even and their salaries had remained stagnant. Now that it was making a small profit, the workers wanted a pay rise.

When they raised the union idea, the management warned them to temper any demand for pay hikes because business conditions were still fragile.

“I advise them to stay their hand on this demand,” an executive later told me. He explained the company was considering moving the operation to Malaysia to reduce costs.

“I told them if their proposed union pushed it, the company would be forced to make the move earlier.”

To read on click the link below.
First seen at Singapore Window