Doors to Diplomacy Project ID: 6388

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International Schools CyberFair Project Narrative
Title: Censorship in Singapore
Category: 2. Promotion of Peace and Democracy: Social Issues

School: Raffles Institution
    Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

4 students, ages 15, 15, 17, 18 worked together to complete this Doors to Diplomacy project on March 23, 2010. They have participated in Doors to Diplomacy in the following year(s): 2008, 2009, 2010

Classes and Teachers: Teacher: Mr Eric Koh, Students: Zi Xiang, Xinming, Pao Jung, Hubert

E-Mail contact:

Our School's Web Site:

Project Overview

1. Description of Our Team

Zi Xiang T., 15, Leader Pao-Jung K., 17, Filmmaker Xinming X., 18, Filmmaker Hubert T., 15, Website designer Teacher-mentor: Mr. Eric Koh

The main catalyst for our interests in censorship lies in the fact that we have been at the receiving end of censorship ourselves. In fact, approximately a year ago, when we first embarked on our Doors to Diplomacy project, our topic in mind was actually concerning the monarchy of a neighboring country and its effects on the country’s democratic development. However, we were told off for approaching such a sensitive topic (seeing how we might inevitably criticize the monarchy) and were essentially “censored” by our teachers.

We were given a lecture on how Singapore is a small country and we needed to demonstrate diplomacy and sensitivity to our larger neighbors. From then, we realized the pervasiveness of censorship and how the long arms of censorship can reach insignificant individuals like ourselves.

Our roles are usually not as clear-cut as the description above suggests, for we often engage in group discussions and help each other in our jobs. From experience, it is definitely true that “two is better than one” as we were able make up for each other’s flaws.

One of the more interesting aspects of our team is actually the diversity within our team. Zi Xiang and Hubert are both local true-blue Singaporeans, Pao-Jung had spent his childhood in Taiwan while Xinming had spent his childhood in Mainland China.

Due to our different backgrounds, we actually share very different views. For example, Pao-Jung usually holds more liberal views and believes strongly in the freedom of expression and a free press. Xinming, on the other hand, is more tolerant of authority in general and believes that censorship is necessary to ensure a harmonious society and minimize conflicts. This diversity sometimes led to disagreement, but we feel this actually enhances our work as more perspectives are being represented and thus, more objective.

Last but definitely not least, our teacher-mentor, Mr. Eric Koh, gave us advice and logistic support and we are very grateful for his guidance and support.

2. Summary of Our Project

Our website was quite ambitious as we were actually tackling the issue of censorship in its entirety. To help us conceptualize the issue, we split the overarching issue of censorship into the different types of censorship based on the different purposes of carrying out censorship. We also devoted a web-page to each important issue, such as freedom of expression and self-censorship.

In the course of our project, in addition to conventional research and literature review, we also carried out surveys within the school population, interviewed people on the street and also did a profile interview on a civil servant, Mr. Terence Seow, and a filmmaker whose works had been subjected to censorship, Mr. Martyn See.

In conjunction with our school’s Social Studies coursework, we created a social documentary incorporating our research and interviews. We hope that the social documentary can serve as a platform for people to know more about censorship as well as Singapore.

We realize that censorship is quite a serious topic, so we try to lighten up each webpage by using pictures and embedding video links. We even included a few humorous, if not risqué, video links on our home page. It is our hope that our website, along with our social documentary, can reach out and educate people about censorship while being fun at the same time.

In retrospect, the best part of this project has been the journey and experience it has provided us with. We learned more about ourselves and, most importantly, had fun while doing constructive work at the same time. Such a process, in our opinion, can never be replicated in a classroom alone.

3. Our Computer and Internet Access

A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:more than 50%

B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:4-6

C. Connection speed used in the classroom:dial-up modem

D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:more than 6

E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):

Actually, Singapore being a city-state, we actually have an extremely high broadband penetration rate and with the advent of 3G mobile phones (which can access Internet) and free public Wi-Fi in designated areas, the number of users connecting to the Internet will rise with time. Internet, along with the new media in general, is able to reach out to more Singaporeans than ever before as it transcends the boundaries that traditional forms of media face, such as costs, time and space.

We hope to capitalize on this fact by incorporating fun multimedia elements into our website, such as embedding videos and Flash animations, such that we are able to reach a wide audience and be able to raise their awareness in social issues like censorship in an enjoyable manner.

4. Problems We Had To Overcome

Firstly, censorship is actually quite a sensitive issue in Singapore. This actually posed a bigger problem than expected. When we sought interviews with people on the streets, most of them evaded us especially after finding out what our interview topic was. Out of those who agreed, some jokingly requested to have their faces blurred out in our actual documentary.

This was even more obvious when we sought in-depth interviews with professors at our local universities. All of them turned us down and a few even responded by commenting on that the subject was “too sensitive” for them to express their views openly. This ironically fell into one of the highlights of our project: self-censorship (you can find out more about self-censorship in our website!).

As such, we could not interview as much people as we would like to. Most of all, it reflected the political and cultural realities in Singapore. To overcome this, we had to be extra persuasive and a big, wide smile really goes a long way in convincing someone to be interviewed. :)

Secondly, we were also encumbered with technical difficulties. This surfaced repeatedly when we were filming our social documentary. A main problem we faced was in picking up the voices of the people speaking in public places. As our equipment was more amateurish than professional, we do not have a microphone and instead had to improvise by using our mobile phones as a secondary mike and fit the audio captured by the mobile phones to the video footage during the editing process. Other technical hiccups occurred as well (some too technical to be concisely expressed here), but we are glad to say that with hard work, we were able to solve or circumvent most of them.

5. Our Project Sound Bite

“Censorship: Protection from Reality”

6. How did your activities and research for this Doors to Diplomacy Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?

Our Doors to Diplomacy project was done as part of Raffles Institution’s Research Education programme. This meant that our project had to fit into the existing Research Education framework, which is structured to include a project proposal, a final report and carry out surveys and interviews. Our social documentary is also part of Raffles Institution’s Year 4 Social Studies curriculum.

As we carried out the Research Education’s regular coursework, we found that the tools utilized in Research Education were very beneficial for us. Examples include compiling our bibliography in APA style, conducting surveys and interviews with other people in our community and accessing news archives and other sources of information effectively.

However, we found that the soft skills we have acquired along the way are crucial too. For example, we can honestly say that the interview component of this project has emboldened us to step outside our comfort zone and approach complete strangers for their opinions. Other soft skills were teamwork, the importance of communication, as well as time management.

Project Elements

1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your Doors to Diplomacy project?

Throughout the project, we used a variety of information tools and technologies to ensure that we have a more complete and all-rounded research.

For a large part of our project, we utilized the World Wide Web, which is conveniently accessible from our homes. We found many useful resources on the Internet, such as online journals, news articles, and images, which we read through to understand more about our topic. There are also many relevant multimedia resources, such as videos, which we embedded in our website to add more dimensions and also to allow readers to understand the content discussed better. Of course, though the Internet is an easy source of information, we knew that we have to be careful of the reliability of the sources. We also turned to printed resources such as reference books and magazines like TIME from both the school and public libraries. We knew that print resources are more reliable and are better sources of information than the web.

In addition, we also conducted several interviews and surveys to further supplement our research finding. For example, we did a comprehensive survey among We wanted to find out more about how an average Singaporean thinks about the issue of censorship, and hence armed with a camera and several questions in mind, we took to the streets. We certainly obtained many valuable opinions, which aided us in our project. We also managed to hold a dialogue with one of the country’s most infamous director, Martyn See. We reckoned it would be best to extract some of his views on the censorship issues, which would be invaluable to our project.

2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your Doors to Diplomacy project both on-line and in person.

As “ambassadors” for our Doors to Diplomacy project, we feel that it is our responsibility to ensure that the research and insights that we have discovered in the course of this project must be conveyed to as many people as possible in order to be meaningful. Instead of passively waiting for people to come to our website, we feel that it is more effective to start publicising our websites, starting with the people nearest to us.

We believe that due to the interactive manner we did our research, where we carried out interview and surveys with members of our community, we have already caused them to start thinking about these issues. We have also told people around us about our website, starting of course with our classmates. We also made full use of the Internet, starting with the conventional MSN Messengers to spread the message, as well as using the latest “it” thing of the Internet age: social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. We hope that we will be able to ride the Internet wave by getting friends of friends of friends whom we don’t even know personally to know about our websites.

3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?

In Singapore, censorship has always been a latent issue; it is always present but never thoroughly addressed. Many citizens are disinclined to comment on political or sometimes even social issues, out of either apathy or perhaps fear or repercussions, the latter of which would be self-censorship.

We feel that this lack of discussion, regardless of whether it is caused by apathy or self-censorship, is not a healthy sign for a democratic society because it inadvertently leads to lack of awareness. For example, through our surveys and interviews, we have found out that many people are unaware of the fact the major media broadcasting corporations in Singapore are indirectly owned by the government (or its subsidiary). This is an alarming signal of the society we live in.

We hope that through our website and documentary, citizens in Singapore will be able to raise their awareness of censorship issues in Singapore in particular, as well as participate more actively in public discourse and not succumb to censorship. Most importantly, we wish that our research can find its intended target audience, youths, who have the largest online presence across all demographic groups. As youths are the adults of tomorrow, we wish that our website will inspire their interests in social issues in general while they are still young.

Lastly, it is our hope to be able to present an objective picture of censorship that meets rigorous intellectual standards. We realize that as with all social issues, each person is entitled to their opinions and each person’s opinions directly affect the conclusion that they draw. We hope that instead of being didactic and simply tell people how to think, we can show them the whole spectrum of different arguments and let them reach their own conclusions on their own.

4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?

Firstly, we must acknowledge that without the help of members of our community, there is no way our project can be what it is today. For example, our peers have been kind enough to participate in our surveys while the kind strangers who agreed to being interviewed by us helped us capture the views of average Singaporeans in our social documentary. This is especially including those who allowed us to film their response with our camcorder, which is a great help for our project.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to Mr. Terence Seow and Mr. Martyn See in particular. Mr. Terence Seow is a civil servant and through our long interview with him, we learned about the profound concept of cultural relativism, which he believes in. Through our interview with Mr. Martyn See, a filmmaker whose works had been censored by the government, we managed to find out the reasons behind his daring actions to contradict the government. They have taken time off their busy schedules to let us interview them, which we are very grateful for.

Last but not least, we would like to thank Mr. Eric Koh as he had given us guidance and support along the way. He was also a very sociable and fun teacher who treats us like his friends.

5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)

In the course of completing this project, we have learnt a lot about censorship. Censorship is a complex issue that is found in everyday life. In our attempt to understand and explain censorship, we have learnt about instances of censorship in history, the relationships between censorship and democracy and human rights and the significance of censorship in diplomacy, both as a practice and as a violation of the right to freedom of expression. We feel that these insights are very useful in helping us shed light on the faceless and formless enigma that is censorship.

One of the most pleasant surprises we encountered in our project is our interview with Mr. Martyn See. As he went by his online moniker “Singapore Rebel”, as well as his infamous documentaries, we expected him to be an ardent anti-government fanatic. However, when we finally met him his interview has left us with a deep impression, for he was not the fiery, die-hard rebel that we thought he would be, but rather a soft-spoken man who sincerely believes in civil liberties and human rights and simply wants share his convictions with others.

We believe Doors to Diplomacy has been a great learning opportunity and we have tried our best and would definitely recommend others to try.


View our Doors to Diplomacy Project (Project ID: 6388)

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