Singapore objects to New York Times' editorial on riot in Little India

SINGAPORE has objected to a New York Times editorial headlined "Singapore's angry migrant workers", on the Dec 8 riot in Little India, and the newspaper's repeated refusal to publish the republic's ambassador's response to it.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) on Tuesday released Ambassador to the United States Ashok Mirpuri's letter and criticised the Times in a hard-hitting statement.

"The New York Times, like any other newspaper, is entitled to express its own opinions. But when it suppresses rejoinders that express a contrary view, and show that the Times is mistaken, it gives the lie to its claim to champion freedom of speech and the truth," the MCI statement said.

The editorial was published in The New York Times on Dec 28 and reprinted in its international edition on Dec 30. It linked the riot to foreign workers' frustration over wages and living conditions.

Ambassador Mirpuri wrote to the Times a few days later and said the editorial "offered scant evidence" for its suggestion that the riot arose from workers' building frustration. He pointed out that the rioters were employed by dozens of different employers and stayed in different dormitories.

He also noted that the riot occurred on their day off, was localised to a congregation area for recreation and did not spread to dormitories, workplaces or any other place.

"It is thus most unlikely that the rioters were motivated by the issues you ascribed," he added.

The Singapore Government's preliminary assessment, he said, was that the rioters acted spontaneously, triggered by a fatal traffic accident. A government-appointed committee of inquiry, headed by a retired judge, would "establish definitively the factors that led to the riot".

He also defended Singapore's record on migrant workers.

"Migrant workers do contribute to our economy. They work legally and voluntarily. We strive to ensure that they are fairly treated and properly paid. Laws deal strictly with errant employers who ill-treat employees. Surveys show consistently that the vast majority of our migrant workers want to continue working in Singapore," he said.

And he disputed the editorial's claim that the Singapore Government hoped to increase the population from 5.4 million to 6.9 million by 2030. That was a top-end projection for long-term infrastructure planning, he said, adding that while Singapore would need migrant workers, especially for construction, it had tightened their inflow.

The MCI spokesman said in his statement that instead of publishing Ambassador Mirpuri's letter, the Times "prevaricated and raised fresh objections each time their previous objections were met".

The paper objected to the Ambassador saying they were mistaken and claimed that would render the letter a "correction", which would have to be cleared by a senior editor and would not be publishable in the letters page.

Then it objected to Singapore setting out the facts as to who the rioters were, despite not having objected to this earlier, the spokesman said.

"It also refused to allow the Ambassador to so much as suggest that the Times had been mistaken in its analysis of the causes of the riot," he added.