Singaporeans must be made aware that the latest move by the PAP to establish a speakers' corner is just a gimmick to distract the people from the important issue of the lack of freedom of speech in Singapore. The following are the reasons:
One, the speakers' corner has blown wide open the Government's rubbish of not allowing the people to speak in public places. The rationale for banning public speeches is, ostensibly, that such events may create public disorder, hinder traffic and inconvenience pedestrians. How will all these so-called problems be avoided with a speakers' corner at Hong Lim Park? Put another way, if people can speak publicly at Hong Lim, why can't they speak publicly anywhere else in Singapore?
Two, what Singapore needs is not a free speech venue but a genuine respect by the Government for the people's right to free speech. This is because if the Government feels that it can allow Singaporeans to speak at Hong Lim Park, it will also feel that it can ban it anytime. Rights cannot be given to and taken away from the people whenever the Government feels like it.
Three, with speakers not allowed to use microphones, it effectively means that only a small number of people can hear what is being said. This will make the speakers' corner no more attractive than pasar malam stalls, which by the way uses loudspeakers to hawk their wares. Serious speakers with important messages cannot communicate effectively to the masses.
Four, if the Government is sincere about wanting to open up society, then it must remove the controls over the mass media. Freedom of speech includes the freedom of expression that only a free and independent mass media can deliver. The present state of Singapore's media is absolutely appalling because of the debilitating controls of the Government.
In the final analysis, this entire episode is a farce at best and does nothing to usher in the democratic reforms that this country so urgently needs.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
(2 May 2000)