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The Straits Times, 27 Jan 05
Speak up, Tharman tells youths
by Ho Ai Li

ASK not what you can or cannot do, but do something to make a difference instead.

That was the message from Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to students at a youth and media conference yesterday.

And that was what the minister, a former student activist, did himself. Mr Tharman, who was once questioned by the Internal Security Department over his leftist views, said he was driven by the need to 'do something' about things he was dissatisfied with. 'And I did something about it, with friends, with groups of people, writing articles, selling them, sometimes surreptitiously,' he recalled.

One does not develop a conviction and commitment to a society without first questioning and pushing the boundaries, he said. He welcomes restlessness in young people as it feeds idealism and helps society move forward.

Censorship was the key theme during a lively question-and-answer session at the event organised by film and media studies students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Students, taking up the theme of youth, media and political involvement, grilled Mr Tharman and the three other panellists about overstepping the out-of-bounds markers around sensitive issues.

Mr Tharman assured the more than 1,000 youths present that nothing will happen even if one breaches an OB marker. One simply learns to steel oneself and be more adroit.

Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang said that fears of repercussions should they say something the Government did not like were exaggerated and might stem from past incidents such as the Government's rebuttal of novelist Catherine Lim and opposition politicians. Mr Tharman noted that Ms Lim is now more famous than ever and still speaks out with relish.

Nanyang Technological University's Associate Professor Ang Peng Hwa gave more encouragement, saying they can plead the ignorance of youth if any flak ensues. In his address, Mr Tharman warned that social and political apathy among the young posed long-term risks to community cohesion.

Mr Han said the media had an important role in helping readers understand what was happening around them, especially now that Singapore as a nation was re-examining the way things have been done. He noted that despite a slide in the percentage of youths who read newspapers in countries such as the United States, World Association of Newspapers figures showed that 92 per cent of young people here read them - more than anywhere else.

For MediaCorp group managing director Shaun Seow, the key to engaging youths lies in the packaging of political content. He pointed to how wacky political websites and show business figures such as film-maker Michael Moore led the way in encouraging turnout among young voters during last year's US presidential elections.

There was certainly no lack of activities to engage students at the one-day conference, with presentations and workshops on topics ranging from the impact of reality TV to blogs, as well as a forum on popular culture.

Catholic High student Chiang Weihan, 16, said the forums addressed matters close to his heart. 'Most of the questions are what we'd like to ask ourselves, such as how we as the younger generation can chip in and do our part,' he said.


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