Singapore Warns The Economist’s Bureau Chief on Foreign Interference

Singapore’s government issued a warning to the bureau chief of The Economist for meddling in domestic politics.

(Bloomberg) — Singapore’s government issued a warning to the bureau chief of The Economist for meddling in domestic politics. 

The Ministry of Communications and Information said bureau chief Dominic Ziegler last month endorsed a new local digital magazine called Jom, and asked Singaporeans to embrace an alternative vision to what was being offered by the government and local media. 

“Ziegler’s action clearly crossed the line from reporting on Singapore to participating in Singapore’s domestic affairs,” the ministry said in a statement. “Such foreign interference in our domestic politics will not be tolerated. Singapore politics is reserved only for Singaporeans.”

The ministry said it has “expressed our clear expectation” to Ziegler that he refrain from repeating viewpoints that interfere with domestic politics. 

The Economist didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Jom’s publisher posted on Facebook the full statement from Ziegler endorsing the magazine, saying the journalist was talking about patriotism. 

Singaporean Laws

Singapore has laws dealing with foreign interference, which came into force in July last year. Officials said the legislation was meant to prevent entities or individuals from influencing politics in the Southeast Asian nation.

The government had previously said it wouldn’t apply the law against foreign individuals and publications commenting and reporting on Singaporean politics, though critics have said it gave the government sweeping powers to target dissent and promote self-censorship. 

Singapore has long defended the need for such laws, saying the city-state is vulnerable to fake news and hostile information campaigns given that it is a financial hub with a multiethnic, international population that enjoys widespread internet access.

“We continue to welcome foreign correspondents and media outlets to operate out of and report on Singapore, including The Economist,” the ministry said. “However, they must comply with our laws and must not interfere in our domestic politics.

The government and the ruling People’s Action Party haven’t shied away from using various laws against foreign and local publications and individuals for statements deemed as inaccurate or defamatory. Activists, including with Human Rights Watch, have argued that such actions stifle freedom of speech. 

Some of the country’s most senior ministers have sued or settled out of court on defamation cases with several foreign media organizations, including The New York Times and the Financial Times. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also won defamation suits against bloggers in recent years. 

(Updates with details and context)

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