SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has issued a warning to The Economist’s Singapore bureau chief, Dominic Ziegler, for publicly endorsing local online publication Jom, calling his endorsement “interference” in domestic politics.

As per an advertisement for Jom that ran on 25 Aug, Mr Ziegler had said: “I love Jom. It’s driven by an infectious curiosity and by a deep attachment to the great city-state of Singapore and the world it floats in. Jom is penetrating, bold, unflinching and funny. Above all, it is humane.

It touches deeper truths about the way Singapore is run and about the culture that runs through all Singaporeans than you will ever find in the state-supported press. It is also better written, but that is not all: the best writing in Singapore is matched by classy artwork. It is an end-of-the-week joy to have Jom in your hands or on your laptop.

Jom enlightens and gives pleasure. More than that, in illiberal states around the world independent media need supporters. Those states and their captive media presume to know what is best for us. But with no independent voices to question things, how can they be so sure?

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How can they give weight to all the voices of society, rather than just the most powerful ones? Every Singaporean wants a kinder, fairer future. By offering visions of alternative Singapores, Jom is already reaching for that future. What’s that, if not patriotism?”

In a statement on Friday (8 Sept), MCI said Mr Ziegler “compared Singapore to an illiberal state, and encouraged Singaporeans to embrace an alternative vision, instead of what was being offered by the state and an allegedly captive media”.

Revealing that it has expressed “clear expectation” to Mr Ziegler that he refrain from interfering in domestic politics again, MCI said: “Ziegler’s action clearly crossed the line from reporting on Singapore to participating in Singapore’s domestic affairs.

Ziegler has exploited his status in Singapore as a journalist in a prestigious international publication to advocate to Singaporeans for his viewpoint on domestic politics in Singapore, a country which he is not a citizen of.”

Asserting that “such foreign interference” in domestic politics will not be tolerated, the ministry added, “Singapore politics is reserved only for Singaporeans.”

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Noting that foreign correspondents are free to report and comment on Singapore in foreign publications, reaching a global audience, MCI said: “The government insists on the right of reply to correct foreign reports that it considers inaccurate or biased, but it does not prevent foreign correspondents from engaging anyone they wish here and reporting on Singapore in any way they think fit.

Many foreign correspondents and media outlets base themselves in Singapore. The Economist itself has expanded its bureau here in recent years, transferring many of its correspondents previously based elsewhere in the region to Singapore. It would not have done so if it did not find Singapore a suitable base for its correspondents.”

MCI added that it welcomes foreign reporters and media companies to operate in and report on Singapore but warned: “However, they must comply with our laws and must not interfere in our domestic politics.”

Responding to the MCI’s warning to The Economist’s Singapore bureau chief, a number of Singaporeans online have questioned when the authorities will act against the blogger behind the Critical Spectator site.

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Critical Spectator is a pro-ruling party blog run by Polish national Michael Petraeus. Despite the fact that Petraeus frequently comments on Singapore politics, he has not been publicly warned against doing so despite the Government’s policy that Singapore’s politics is only for Singaporeans.

Singaporeans responding to MCI’s statement on online platforms like Reddit, WhatsApp and Facebook opined that Mr Ziegler’s comments were mild and expressed surprise that the authority was taking such a hard stance.

Others asked why the authorities have been silent on Petraeus’ blog, which is largely critical of the Singapore opposition and civil activists. The blog frequently engages in character assassinations and elements of “dog whistling” in reference to opposition politicians and civil society figures.

Despite this, the blog has never been admonished by the Government. Instead, posts on the website have been publicly shared by a number of establishment figures – including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching.