Penang may soon set up the country’s first public speakers’ corner.
(I use the term ‘public’ because a speakers’ corner at the Perdanasiswa Complex in Universiti Malaya has just been re-opened after about 40 years.)
The Penang state government said yesterday that it was thinking of a permanent stage at the Esplanade for candlelight vigils, open forums and demonstrations. It would be at a distance from traffic, said a report in today’s Sun.
“The stage can be used on request by anybody, provided it has not been reserved for other events,” said exco member Chow Kon Yeow, who added that a committee may be set up to liaise with NGOs in this matter.
Now this is a positive development, especially if the state government folks are going to discuss the exact location with civil society and the public – but why do we need a stage? In London, the Speakers’ Corner does not require any prior request or approval for speakers to address whoever is willing to listen. On weekends, anyone can step up on a crate (no stage is needed) and speak to whoever cares to listen. At any one time, there could be around half a dozen different speakers animatedly addressing small crowds at different spots in the area while engaging with or ignoring hecklers. We should not follow the farcical Singapore ‘Speakers’ Corner’.
All the same, the loss of the fine public space in front of Dewan Sri Pinang still saddens me.