Singapore hits back over NYT editorial on 'Singapore's angry migrant workers'

Wreckage from the Little India riot.

Singapore has released a strongly worded statement slamming the New York Times over an editorial it published last month entitled "Singapore's angry migrant workers".

The statement, which was undersigned by Singapore ambassador to the United States, Ashok Mirpuri, took issue with the editorial which claimed December's Little India riot was caused by the frustration of migrant workers over wages and living conditions.

Ambassador Mirpuri had written to the New York Times  a few days later after the editorial was published on December 28 and sought to clarify the facts.

Among the points he raised was that there was no evidence the riot had been caused by the issues mentioned. To illustrate this, he pointed out that the rioters were employed by different employers and stayed in different dormitories, and that the riot — which occurred on a day off for the workers -- had not spread to dormitories, workplaces or any other location.


However, MCI said the NYT repeatedly refused to carry the Ambassador's response to the editorial, instead raising fresh objections each time their previous objections were met.

"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.

Included in the six-paragraph editorial that was published on its website, the New York Times had written, "Migrant laborers are paid as little as 2 Singapore dollars, or US$1.60, per hour. Few speak fluent English, the country’s working language, and most live in crowded dormitories away from residential areas."

"They typically are at the mercy of employers, owe high debt to hiring agents and have few means of expressing grievances… Casting the riot in Little India as an isolated law-and-order problem does not address Singapore’s larger demographic problem. If Singapore is to preserve its high standard of living, it must ensure that the millions of transient workers who contribute so much to the economy are not marginalized and abused," it concluded.