How Newspapers in Singapore reported on the "Abolish ISA" Event

Posted by Melvin Tan under Media Watch on 16 January 2001

Remember the "Abolish ISA" event held at Hong Lim Park last month on International Human Rights Day? Organised by Open Singapore Centre and Think Centre, it received coverage in the local news and papers apart from grabbing some attention at an international level.

Needless to say, not all departments of the local media gave fair, unbiased or deserving reports.

A month later, I re-read some of the news clippings in my personal archival, and decided to embark upon the task of doing a "contrast and compare" between our local newspapers, rating and awarding marks to every one of them based on their coverage of the event alone. After all, since our media plays judge so often, surely they won't mind if I do the same to them? Guess which paper top marks go to?

Read below for full extracts of the report followed by my comments and ratings: -


Singapore Chee runs marathon in demo

SINGAPORE Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan marked Human Rights Day yesterday by running a 42-km marathon from Whitley Road to Hong Lim Park, accompanied by his sister Siok Chin.

His route took him past the Istana, where he handed to security guards a letter, addressed to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, protesting against the Internal Security Act.

Dr Chee explained to reporters why he had continued with the run despite police refusal last Wednesday to grant the Open Singapore Centre and Think Centre a permit for a marathon: 'It's to show our resolve. A demonstration doesn't have to be one where we hurl rocks and bottles.'

Activists from both organisations, including veteran opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam and political activist James Gomez, were at Speakers' Corner awaiting Dr Chee's arrival.

Wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the words 'Abolish ISA' and holding up a large banner bearing the same words, they took turns to persuade the noon-day crowd at Speakers' Corner that the Government was denying Singaporeans their rights by keeping the ISA.

Photographs: NIL

Comment: The most well-read newspaper in Singapore actually gave such limited coverage of an event which has been globally respected and recognised. Tsk tsk.

Rating: 5/10


(Translated by Melvin Tan)

Singapore News Chee Soon Juan completes 42 km marathon Presents a petition mid-way on behalf of J B Jeyaretnam

Workers' Party Secretary-general J B Jeyaretnam yesterday presented a petition to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, calling on the government to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA). Since the government maintains such laws, they have given themselves the right to bypass the judiciary and detain anyone they liked, and hence abuse the basic human rights of Singaporeans.

Singapore Democratic Party Secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan took the opportunity to run a marathon yesterday, and halfway through the journey, he presented a petition on behalf of Jeyaretnam to a security guard at the Istana, requesting him to hand it over to PM Goh.

Jeyaretnam signed the petition in his capacity as Chairman of the Open Singapore Centre. The Open Singapore Centre, a political pressure group, was founded by Chee and himself. Together with the Think Centre, a political discussion group, they jointly organised an International Human Rights Day event at a spot in Hong Lim Park. During the event, Jeyaretnam publicly read the contents of the petition to PM Goh.

In his speech, he also requested the government to issue an apology to Chia Thye Poh and other dissidents whom were discovered to be involved in subservient activities and subsequently detained without trial for a period of time under the ISA.

Jeyaretnam also said that Singapore should become an official signatory of any United Nations pact relating to citizen's rights, labour rights and freedom of assembly.

Chee, accompanied by his sister, kicked off the marathon run from a Gymkhana Avenue, an adjacent lane facing Mount Pleasant Road near the Whitley Detention Centre, and reached Hong Lim Park at 12.15 pm, covering a total distance of 26 miles (42 km).

The Open Singapore Centre and the Think Centre had originally planned to organise an enmasse International Human Rights Day marathon event, but cancelled it after failing to obtain a permit from the police. Chee later announced that he would carry out a "one-man marathon".

They expressed that the significance of this marathon was to commemorate the days of Chia's detention. In 1966, Chia was detained under the ISA, and subsequently released after 23 years. The length of the marathon was 26 miles, and each mile represented a year of his detention. The remaining 3 miles represented, the first to the 150 people detained under "Operation Cold Store" in 1963, the second to the 22 detained under "Operation Spectrum" in 1987, and the third mile to people still under detention at present.

During their speeches, both Chee and Jeyaretnam criticised the police for not allowing them to organise the marathon on International Human Rights Day, proving that the Singapore Government did not respect human rights.

The day before, a police spokesperson explained that the Open Singapore Centre had applied for a permit to hold a gathering and march. The purpose of application was to complement the marathon run organised in conjunction with International Human Rights Day.

However, the police noticed that the Think Centre proceeded to announce through its website a demonstration in Hong Lim Park, the marathon destination, and even invited the public to join in. As the event included preparations for a demonstration that may lead to problems of a hazard, the police rejected the request for a permit.

Nevertheless, the spokesperson emphasised that anyone was free to speak at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, as long as they abide to the rules of the Speakers' Corner.

Yesterday, about 50 people were at Hong Lim Park to listen to the speeches by members of the opposition and Think Centre. Their criticisms were mainly against the current state of Human Rights in Singapore.

Photographs: 1 (Dr Chee running through Hong Lim Park)

Comments: Fairly lengthy description of facts, with a good photograph to go with. Overall, the report was written in a balanced and unbiased way, except that it was marred by the no-mention of James Gomez and Dr Gopal Baratham.

Rating: 7/10



PROTEST RUN Chee's gesture

SINGAPORE Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan marked Human Rights Day yesterday by running in a 42km marathon.

His route took him past the Istana. At the Istana, he handed a letter to guards.

Addressed to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, the letter protested against the Internal Security Act.

"It's to show our resolve," Dr Chee said.

Photographs: NIL

Comments: Only a few sentences to sum it all up and drying up the juicy parts despite its current contention with upcoming competitor(s) mainly in the form of rival Today.

Rating: 2/10


Comments: Nothing was seen on the website. And given the $0.70 we have to pay to get thinner literature than New Paper, who'll buy the hard copy?

Rating: ---


Streatsmart Local

Newsscan Dr Chee runs marathon

Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan marked Human Rights Day yesterday by running from Whitley Road to Hong Lim Park accompanied by his sister Chee Siok Chin.

He ran past the Istana, where he handed to security guards a letter, addressed to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, protesting against the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Dr Chee said he ran, despite police refusal last Wednesday to grant the Open Singapore Centre and Think Centre a permit for a marathon, "to show our resolve".

He was met at Hong Lim Park by activists from both organisations.

Photographs: NIL

Comments: I suspect the article writers did a cut-and-paste job from New Paper, and as they knew Today would do better, touched it up a bit.

Rating: 3/10


Hot News ISA gets an airing by Zackaria Abdul Rahim

ALTHOUGH he was not allowed to organise a marathon run, opposition politician Chee Soon Juan insisted on running the full 42-kilometre stretch along with his sister.

Arriving at Hong Lim Park, more popular these days for the Speakers' Corner site, Dr Chee was greeted by some 100 people who had joined him in protesting against the Internal Security Act.

Dr Chee, who said he runs 8 to 10 kilometres every day, then sat down exhausted while others like Non-Constituency MP J.B. Jeyaretnam and neurosurgeon and writer Gopal Baratham, took turns to speak up on issues ranging from the abolition of the ISA, to impressing the audience that "human rights are your birth right".

The speakers were all wearing "Abolish ISA" tee shirts and spoke about Chia Thye Poh, the former former opposition MP, who was arrested in 1966 and later was told that he would be released unconditionally if he renounced communism. But, he never did claiming that he had never been a communist in the first place.

So, he remained in detention until November 1998, thereby becoming Singapore's longest serving political prisoner.

Yesterday's run, held in conjunction with the International Human Rights Day, was supposed to be a protest against ISA.

The run, co-organised by Think Centre and the Open Singapore Centre, of which Dr Chee is the director, was denied permission but the participants went ahead with their speeches all the same.

But why organise a protest against ISA when only recently the former political journalist Cherian George pointed out that there had not been any ISA arrests over the past 10 years?

Dr Chee claimed that six people were arrested under the ISA in 1997, and two were released later, although he was not sure.

"As a journalist, he (Cherian) doesn't know how many detainees, so what hope do we have left?" he said.

Mr James Gomez, director of Think Centre, chipped in: "If there's really no arrest then all the more reason the legislation should be abandoned."

Photographs: 1 (Picture of the "Abolish ISA" banner - by Alvin Toh)

Comments: Kudos to Zackaria and Today - they have earned my vote. This news report stands in line with international releases, which is what democracy is all about, and puts to shame its competitors (incidentally all from SPH). The publication organ of Mediacorp has made its mark in its ability to capture the attention of readers and being the most credible paper around!

Rating: 8/10

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