World Movement for Democracy condemns imprisonment of democrats in Singapore

World Movement for Democracy (WMD)
30 Nov 06
http://www.wmd.org

The World Movement for Democracy condemns the jail sentence of WMD participant in Singapore, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Chairman of the Alliance of Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA) and Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and his colleagues.

On November 23, 2006, the Subordinate Court of Singapore sentenced Dr. Chee to a five-week imprisonment for the “crime” of speaking in public without a valid permit. Two of his colleagues from SDP, Mr. Gandhi Ambalam and Mr. Yap Keng Ho, were sentenced to shorter terms for speaking to passing citizens as they were selling the party newspaper on the street on April 22, 2006.

The World Movement is also concerned about Dr. Chee’s health condition. According to ARDA, Dr. Chee’s health has considerably deteriorated. Although Dr. Chee is not on a hunger strike, the prison authorities interpret his failure to eat as such, and will punish him by depriving him of family visits and “yard-time.”

Dr. Chee will also have to attend a trial on December 21 for attempting to leave Singapore without a permit (to attend the World Movement’s Fourth Assembly in Istanbul), as well as another pre-trial on January 4 for a suit brought against his family. These actions and charges give the appearance of orchestrated efforts to restrain Dr. Chee and his SDP colleagues in their efforts to advance democracy in Singapore.

Friends from the Singapore Democratic Party have also made numerous requests to the prison authorities to see Mr. Yap Keng Ho, who is now reportedly on a hunger strike, but the prison authorities have yet to let anyone see him. His condition is unknown. Mr. Gandhi Ambalam has a heart ailment, and his family has not received news on how he is doing since their first visit to him.

To view a video message from Dr. Chee Soon Juan, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnLqpYupQfg
For statements by WMD participating organizations, go to:
Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA):
http://www.asiademocracy.org/content_view.php?section_id=1&content_id=724

World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA):
http://www.wfda.net/news_detail.htm?id=255

For information about Dr. Chee’s health condition, go to: http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/articleOct25trial33.html

For a previous statement from the WMD Steering Committee (October 17, 2006), go to: http://www.wmd.org/democracyalerts/oct1706.html

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Dr Chee Soon Juan’s health deteriorates in prison

For immediate release
Urgent: Dr Chee Soon Juan’s health deteriorates in prison
28 Nov 06

Dr Chee Soon Juan was visited by his sister Ms Chee Siok Chin this afternoon at the Queenstown Remand Prison. They met to discuss their lawsuit brought on by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Mr Lee Hsien Loong.

During the brief half an hour meeting, Dr Chee revealed that he had not eaten since the morning of Monday 27 November. This was because every time he ate what was served to him, he would feel nauseous and dizzy and then throw up. Normal sounds such as the jangling of the guard’s keys and even the sound of his cell mate urinating are amplified causing him massive headaches. He has not been able to sleep and has been taking valium to help him rest. Dr Chee has also lost a considerable amount of weight.

A close friend of ex-remisier Mr Boon Suan Ban who was committed to Institute of Mental Health (IMH) last year, had revealed that the latter was given medication for schizophrenia even though he did not suffer from that ailment. Mr Boon had taken legal action against the close friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and former Chief Justice, Mr Yong Pung How. It was only when he proceeded with the case that he was then committed to the IMH.

There were speculations that the late Mr Lim Chin Siong, the leader of the now-defunct political party, Barisan Socialis who was imprisoned by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in 1963, was given drugs during his confinement. The once spirited Mr Lim came close to taking his own life whilst in prison.

In an open letter to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s former president, the late Mr Devan Nair who had a fall out with the former, said that he came under “heavy sedation from 125 mgs of valium daily” for 10 days, administered by the medical staff, enough medication to “dope an elephant”.

The above cases give real cause for concern and suspicion for the enormous discomfort that Dr Chee is presently experiencing.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Gandhi Ambalam and Mr Yap Keng Ho were sentenced to prison for making a speech in public without a permit. The three men have not seen each other since they were taken into prison.

Friends from the Singapore Democratic Party have made numerous requests to the prison authorities to see Mr Yap Keng Ho. We understand that Mr Yap is on a hunger strike and we have made urgent requests to see him to ascertain his condition. The prison authorities have been cold and callous about this and have been dragging their feet on the matter.

Mr Gandhi Ambalam has a heart ailment and his family has not received news on how he is doing since the first visit to him.

Dr Chee also revealed that the Attorney General’s Chambers are proceeding with the other seven charges on him and Mr Yap for the same offence that both men are now serving sentence for. Their pre-trial conference comes up on 4 January 2007.

Dr Chee and Ms Chee are to attend another pre-trial conference on the assessment of damages in the suit brought on by the Lees in the mid January 2007.

These are in addition to another trial of Dr Chee for attempting to leave Singapore without a permit. Dr Chee has to attend court on 21 December 2006, almost immediately after he is released from serving the current jail term. It seems likely that he has to serve another sentence soon after his release from the current one.

These three men are prisoners of conscience. Their incarceration is politically motivated by the ruling party, if not the Singapore Government. They have not committed any crime. They are victims of a dictatorial regime that is desperate to cling on to power.

Family and friends are extremely concerned that the authorities are trying to psychologically destabilize the men and play mind games on them to discourage them from furthering their act of civil disobedience against repressive laws in Singapore.

Although Dr Chee is not on a hunger strike, the prison authorities interpret his abstinence from taking the food they give him as such act, and will punish him by depriving him of family visits and “yard-time”. The family will request to the prison authorities to allow him food brought from home.

The actions taken against Dr Chee, Mr Gandhi and Mr Yap by the Singapore Government are deplorable.

We call on our fellow Singaporeans to express their support by writing to the authorities to show their concern for the three.

To our friends in the international community, we ask that you write to the Singapore Government to visit Dr Chee, Mr Gandhi and Mr Yap to ensure that their physical and psychological conditions do not worsen during their imprisonment.

For further information and update, please see:

http:www.singaporedemocrat.org

Dismantling the Bloggers vs. Journalists Debate

Blogging and mainstream journalism – can they complement each other? It’s an interesting situation which technology has thrown up.

“There are therefore, multiple forms of journalisms for Singapore that are untapped, and a “one size fits all” approach may not address the needs of the Post-65ers.”

By Mykel Sim

Friday, 24 November, 2006

“[If] you read something in the Straits Times or on CNA, you must know that it’s real, it’s quite different from reading this say on Talkingcock.com.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, (National Day Rally Speech, 20 August 2006).

“Where blogging falls down is in its very origin from amateurs. As I
have said elsewhere, because bloggers are non-professionals, they are
likely to stumble into the pitfalls of writing. That is, bloggers are
likely to get into trouble because of the lack of training.”

Ang Peng Hwa, Dean of the School of Communication and Information,
Nanyang Technological University, (The Straits Times, 22 August 2006).

Since the completion of my undergraduate thesis on local contentious blogs in April 2006, many events have swept through the media-scape of Singapore and were not captured in my academic exercise. For instance, in the General Elections of 2006, where the field reporting of election rallies using videos and pictures, including the iconic shot of the massive turnout at a Worker’s Party rally (by Alex Au of Yawning Bread), as well as individual citizens providing their own analysis of the polling results, truly marked the beginning of the blog’s ascendancy into citizen journalism.

These events in the blogosphere stirred up the excitement of many media studies enthusiasts (including myself) as the threshold of the liberalization of political communication in Singapore and have sparked debates about the medium’s future role in society. Interestingly, the government has also been quick in reminding us of the negativities involved in engaging in unbridled free speech on blogs in the post-election period; Char’s brush in with the police regarding his Jesus cartoons in June 2006, and the recent “mrbrown affair” at the local paper Today, which clarified the government’s distinction between journalists and bloggers, are just two incidents that complicate Singapore’s growing history on the use of the Internet as an arbiter in local state-society relations.

Internet’s role in local politics in a state of perpetual flux

It comes as no surprise then that the government’s unclear position regarding the Internet’s role in local politics has left the democratic role of the blog in a state of perpetual flux. Who can use the blog, for what purposes, and with what restrictions or support, are all questions individual citizens, companies, political parties and civil societies in Singapore are trying to answer at the moment.

Indeed, there are often no clear answers to these broad questions and the various groups in society have divergent and often conflicting interests in a technology, and will struggle to control its implementation in accordance with their attendant interests. For the government of Singapore, they have not placed clear legal guidelines that could potentially help citizens navigate this difficult e-terrain, but have instead put into place a discourse on “responsible blogging” which is in tandem with its current communitarian project of “Asian Values”. Underlying the views espoused by Prime Minister Lee and Associate Professor Ang above is thus a general conception of bloggers as a category that is starkly different and perhaps inferior from our mainstream journalists, as well as a need to manage blog content and educate bloggers to write sensitively and responsibly to protect national interests.

The themes underlying their position are issues concerning the professionalism, respectability and responsibility of the supposedly polar opposites of mainstream and alternative media. Predictably, bloggers stand at the losing end of this battle they do not wish to be part of, with the government’s communitarian discourse and the professional ethos of “objectivity” winning the debate for mainstream journalism in Singapore as the more trustworthy reporter of news.

Even within the local blogosphere itself, politically inclined blogs that are insufficiently “professionalized” have become stigmatized as unworthy flag bearers of the citizen journalism, as an informal and satirical style is perceivably lacking in the rigorousness and intellectual depth needed to examine complex social and political issues.

Blogs as alternative media?

But to accept the state’s discourse would be essentially denying the possibility of conceiving local blogs as a form of alternative media that can exist amicably alongside mainstream press, without the antagonism exaggerated by a “bloggers versus journalists” dichotomy. Can we not problematize the relationship between the two then? Jay Rosen, the chair of Journalism Studies at New York University, would probably agree with me on this. In a media conference held in 2005 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rosen declared that the “bloggers versus journalists” debate has outlived its usefulness and should be dismantled. His argument is simple:

“The question now isn’t whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn’t whether bloggers ‘are’ journalists. They apparently are, sometimes. We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward. […] That’s why we’re conferencing: to find the deeper pattern, of which blogging and journalism are a part.”

Rethink the role of the media

Rather, we should start by asking how both forms of journalism can be appropriated under one diverse media system in Singapore, with mainstream journalism serving a distinct sector of society, and alternative media like blogs catering to other sectors of society. It is time to rethink the role of the media in contemporary democracies. As James Curran, Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths College would suggest, Singapore can start by understanding the strengths of different journalisms in the local media system so that each of them can be employed to serve niche segments of society they are identified as suitable for:

“Perhaps the first step […] is to break free from the assumption that the media are a single institution with a common democratic purpose. Instead, different media should be viewed as having different functions within the democratic system, calling for different kinds of structure and styles of journalism.”

Where mainstream media is still relevant in, such as hard news reporting, bloggers should be less prominent there. But in exercising the media’s ombudsman role as a check on the centers of power in society and as a platform for subaltern groups, citizen journalism and social commentary, bloggers have shown that their non-institutional and particularistic character can help them comment on issues ranging from faulty Dell laptop batteries to opposition party rallies, more effectively than journalists; views which the mainstream media have problems publishing because of various institutional pressures particular to their social and political context, as well as the impetus to maintain a moderate viewpoint to capture a large readership.

This is precisely why I personally find it ironic that the premise of “professionalism” has taken up such a large space within local debates on blogs, without taking into account how the deprofessionalized, decapitalized and deinstitutionalized character of blogs account for much of the its popularity in the first place.

It is afterall the blog’s promise to allow for instant web publishing without the requisite professional values of news objectivity, substantial startup capital, and an institutional presence (all of which are endemic to the professional news media), which provides many of these politically inclined blogs we see today the space needed to pursue their journalistic ends. To deny bloggers this advantage inherent within the medium would be to effectively dilute any potential benefits the blog may offer towards the creation of a more democratic media system in Singapore.

There are therefore, multiple forms of journalisms for Singapore that are untapped, and a “one size fits all” approach as with our current system, may not adequately address the needs of the bulk of the Post-65 generation who embody rather different conceptions of democracy from the nation’s founding fathers.

Further Reading/References:

Yee, Yeong Chong (2005) Virtually Democratic: Weblog Journalism and the Public Sphere in Singapore. Academic Exercise. Singapore: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

Curran, James (2000). “Rethinking Media and Democracy”, in Mass Media and Society, (eds.) J. Curran & M. Gurevich. London: Arnold Publishers, 120-154.
Jay Rosen article, “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over”

Netizens add to credibility gap

Insight: Down South
By SEAH CHIANG NEE

IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years, the stock market is near record high and so are high-end properties.

The Singapore dollar has strengthened to around S$1.55 to the US dollar on speculation that economic growth would quicken, thus encouraging investors to put more funds in the city-state.

The sanguine mood is reflected on the streets. With the school holidays on, the crowds are out in force. At night, it is virtually impossible to get a cab in the city centre without prior booking.

Restaurants and shopping malls are full, and people are spending ahead of a hike in Goods and Services Tax from 5% to 7% next April.

Year-end festivals are a month away but a fairyland of lights already covers the kilometres stretching from Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay.

While the mood is upbeat, the Internet world, however, is painting a very different picture. Here, the talk is of continued weakness, rising unemployment and people committing suicide.

Forums are still full of tales of retrenched managers driving taxis, and 70-year-old “uncles” cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years. They also feature pictures of homeless families sleeping in housing estate lobbies.

To the cynics, the government has lost its economic way, unable to steer Singapore to a better future. “They’re so desperate they need casinos to get out of the rut”, is a frequent comment.

Ironically, this is happening as the city is flourishing with growth expected to reach 7.5% to 8% this year and new jobs created – 132,000 in the first nine months – being at a 10-year high.

So who is right? Are we in a time of boom or doldrums? Why is there such a large disparity between the real world and the blogosphere?

To market analysts, the question is not whether there is a boom. It is: Can the boom be maintained?

A Citigroup analysis recently asked if it is sustainable or heading for a bust like that in the 1990s when the economy fell into a recession. By keeping labour plentiful and wages low, it said Singapore should continue to perform strongly.

Other reports predicted a 6% annual growth for the next 10 years. There is a caveat, though: the wage gap between rich and poor will continue to widen.

The Internet community, which considers itself an alternative information source, carried few, if any, of the good news.

Even the most serious bloggers are indulging in predictions of doom-and-gloom with young people talking of migrating or seeking jobs elsewhere.

It is a problem for Singaporeans who believe that the mainstream media are too controlled to give them a balanced, objective coverage and who turn to the Internet to seek it.

“If they think the newspapers are too pro-government, reporting only the good and avoiding the bad news, the Internet isn’t any help either,” commented a surfer.

“That’s because it is providing the exact opposite; that the government can do no right, magnifying the negative and ignoring the good news (like the current economic boom).”

So why is there a credibility gap? There are several reasons.

Firstly, the growing influence of a liberal-minded Internet, which often paints the sufferings of a minority as a city-wide phenomenon.

Secondly, Singaporeans, by nature, find it easier to believe the bad news more easily than good news.

Thirdly, the society has become more divided. Unlike their parents who tended to believe whatever the government told them, today’s youths are more cynical.

The Internet is still in transformation, not as mature as civil societies. The easy availability and anonymity are giving people a cover to say anything they want without being held responsible.

In 20 years of growth, the web hasn’t really built a better-informed Singapore as was once hoped.

Those who argue for an anti-government Internet as a means to counter a pro-government media are themselves contributing to its lack of credibility.

This poses a problem for the government if the Net continues to spread negativism as it tries to rally its citizens and dispels pessimism.

How serious is it? A recent government survey on the influence of the Internet on the young surprised me.

Published by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA), the survey showed half of all teens between 15 and 19 are on the Internet, blogging or podcasting.

It meant about 120,000 of these teens take part in web activities. Among those aged 20 to 24, some 46% are participants, and the figure dropped to 18% for those between 39 and 49.

Not all youths take part in political, let alone anti-government, discussions. The majority, I suspect, are just passive readers indulging in teenage chat-rooms or simply posting diaries of their personal activities.

But the extent of their participation surprised me, though. I had thought it amounted to no more than 10%.

Which brings me to a serious point: if the youths are so active and the Net is anti-government (a government backbencher said she was shocked to find they made up 80% of postings) it is a worrying trend.

A rising number of youngsters have stopped reading the traditional media, or what the government says, and have cocooned themselves into a sub-culture group that just talks to each other.

By ignoring this group, or, worse, treating them as enemies instead of engaging them, the government may be in danger of losing these young citizens by default.

Until a clear policy surfaces, it doesn’t augur well for Singapore.

Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com

Dr Chee Soon Juan’s video message

25 Nov 06

Dr Chee Soon Juan, currently serving a 5 weeks jail term for speaking in public without a permit, recorded the following video message before his imprisonment on 23 November 2006.

Jailed In Singapore for This…

Yap Keng Ho 10 days prison in place of $2,000

Gandhi Ambalam 3 weeks in prison in place of $3,000

Chee Soon Juan 5 weeks in prison in place of $5,000

Exclusive images of FRANCE 24

Exclusive images of FRANCE 24
Uploaded by stephany24

Some of the more eagle eyed of you may have noticed the adding of a new image in the upper right hand corner. It refers to the launch of a new online news broadcasting organisation that hopes to be more inclusive than the terrestrial media publishers that tend to focus solely on the medium of television to get the news out. The video showcases their initiative.

A FRENCH EYE ON WORLD NEWS Gleamed from a pdf file from FRANCE 24.

FRANCE 24 is the first French international news channel to broadcast on a 24/7 basis. In December 2006, it offers a French perspective on world events.

FRANCE 24 is characterized by respect for diversity and attention to political and cultural differences and identities. It offers an in-depth analysis of current events, aiming to uncover what lies beneath the surface and reveal what the public is not used to seeing, knowing or understanding. It also gives special attention to culture and lifestyle.

FRANCE 24 is deploying a decisive and bold multilingual strategy. Its programs are broadcast on two channels, one in French, one in English, with Arabic scheduled for 2007. Spanish will follow. Free and unencrypted, the network broadcasts via the various platforms of the digital universe : satellite, cable, ADSL, Internet… It places Internet at the heart of its strategy with a trilingual site as of its launch.

FRANCE 24 is targeting an audience of opinion leaders. Initially, it is broadcast in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the cities of New York and Washington D.C.Its coverage will ultimately extend worldwide.

FRANCE 24 brings a fresh new look at international developments, with a view to ensuring greater pluralism in a multi-faceted world where information plays a decisive role. To this end, it has been endowed with the necessary resources – both financial and human -to guarantee its editorial independence and enable it to offer new and original reporting.