Little India Riot: Singapore Media Whitewash

Little India Riot Singapore Media Whitewash

While the bus accident may have been the proximate cause of the Little India riot in Singapore, it is not unreasonable to speculate that disaffection among low-paid workers may have been a factor in the chaos that ensued. It seems rather obtuse to suggest that a riot of this magnitude was merely the result of a traffic accident and has no social context whatsoever; this is what government-owned Singapore media is reporting, however, as they attempt to whitewash the event and stifle any further discussion as to the real causes.

International media has been pointing out the fact that tension has been brewing due to the often difficult conditions migrant workers face in Singapore, and the bus incident was merely a catalyst which set things off.

Channel NewsAsia ran the headline: “No evidence foreign workers in riot unhappy with employers or govt.” The basis for this title was a quote by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. Today Online has adapted this quote as a headline as well.

So the rioters were not unhappy with the their employers or the government. Well, that settles that. Or does it? It is more likely the case that no evidence was found because none was sought after–or it was ignored and suppressed.

Neither Today or Channel NewsAsia make any mention of the complaints many migrant workers have as to how they are treated in Singapore. Today approaches a real analysis in its “Voices” section, but skirts any actual mention of the problems while trumpeting Singapore’s successes:

Singapore has always prided itself on being clean, efficient and safe, and is well-known for its strict law enforcement.

Social and political stability, communal and ethnic harmony, high levels of public safety and security and low crime rates have been our “unique selling points” and have contributed to our global standing and consistent ranking as one of the best countries in the world to do business and live in.

The underlying problems which led to these incidents should be addressed. We must ensure our competitive advantages are not eroded. The Singapore brand name is at stake.

As part of the media whitewash, much of the coverage on Today and Channel NewsAsia centers on the prohibition of alcohol in Little India and the police’s hunt for the culprits.

Another article in the “Voices” section of Today argues that it is irresponsible to share videos of the riot on the internet, urging self-censorship of citizens.

Most Singaporeans are angry that police cars and an ambulance were overturned and burnt.

It is easy to share such graphic videos online. But let us press the pause button, and ask ourselves what our purpose would be in sharing a video, photo or tweet and whether we are aware of the outcome that would be achieved. What about unintended outcomes? Is there a hidden agenda to the information provided on social media and are we being manipulated?

Indeed, in a country without free expression or an independent press, social media, citizen journalism, and videos taken on phones are the only way for people to know what really happened.

Media in Singapore falls under heavy government control. Channel NewsAsia, Today, Straits Times, and other outlets are controlled by the state. Temasek Holdings is an investment company owned by the Government of Singapore, which covers just about every sector, including telecommunications. The state owns all seven local TV stations. The Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts is a governmental body that regulates locally produced media, and decides whether media published abroad will be made available.

The Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders put Singapore at an abysmal 149th place out of 179 countries ranked, the lowest of any developed economy. Singapore narrowly beats out Iraq and Burma, and comes behind impoverished nations such as Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority is the censorship body that has the final say on any form of media produced or distributed in Singapore. For example, before one may perform a play, the script must be approved by the MDA.

Beginning on 1 June 2013, the MDA requires all websites that report on Singapore with “significant reach” to apply for annual licences. These sites must pay a fine of $50,000 Singapore dollars (about US$40,000) and remove objectionable content within 24 hours of receiving an order from the government. Most bloggers, of course, do not have access to these kinds of funds. The government of Singapore has been threatened by the “hacktivist” group Anonymous due to this restriction of free speech on the internet.

The government has effectively destroyed internet free speech in Singapore. It should come as no surprise that there is a media whitewash of the events of the Little India riot.


Editorial by K. Elsner

Related articles:

Videos of the Little India riot

Rioting Erupts in Little India, Singapore

Singapore Riot Caused by 400 Drunkards?

Little India Riot Highlights Ethnic Divide in Singapore

Anonymous Declares War on Singapore



ChannelNews Asia

Today Online

Media Development Authority

Reporters Without Borders

8 Responses to Little India Riot: Singapore Media Whitewash

  1. A proud true blue Singaporean December 14, 2013 at 2:34 am

    Indians, locals or migrant workers, when drunk will caused some kind of problems. But the local Indians are much more worst than the migrant indian workers. As for this article, spewing your propaganda as if you know the workings and sentiment of the people of Singapore and those working in Singapore like the back of your hand. Misinformation and poor journalism propaganda is the norm for foreign media to bash any country like Singapore. Liberty Voice?. Really?. I guessed your organization have never looked yourself in the mirror.

    • Prosimian December 14, 2013 at 3:23 am

      “Indians, locals or migrant workers, when drunk will caused some kind of problems. But the local Indians are much more worst than the migrant indian workers”
      Why don’t you crawl back under the rock you emerged from. If that is the statement of a Singaporean, then God help us all! If you must know, I am Singaporean and well-traveled around the globe as a matter of fact. The wool that was covering my eyes,
      I have knitted it into a cardigan.

    • Prosimian December 14, 2013 at 3:30 am

      “Indians, locals or migrant workers, when drunk will caused some kind of problems. But the local Indians are much more worst than the migrant indian workers.”
      Why don’t you crawl back under the rock you emerged from? If that is the
      statement of a Singaporean, then God help us all! If you must know, I am a Singaporean and a well-traveled around the globe as a matter of fact. The wool that was covering my eyes, I have knitted into a cardigan

  2. Eugene December 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Hi all. As a Singaporean living overseas – I was left saddened by the Sunday’s events and frustrated by the standard of official reportage. The media whitewash and lack of critical commentary left me hungry for more information. With that in mind, I created a site that presents real-time updates on the riots through social media – drawing both official and alternative media sources. I would be honored if any readers would be kind enough to use this as a resource, and to make an informed understanding of the riots and its implications on Singapore.

  3. singapore December 11, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Not all Indians at the scene are involved in the riot, those who did will be punished, here is a report from CNA praising how some Indians foreign workers tried to prevent and some even help the shop owners during the riot but those who were drunk.

    my govt and even my prime minister has ask all singaporeans not to stereotype the incident and that most foreign workers including Indians are law abiding and are hard working.

  4. LOL December 10, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Drivel from start to finish. All I ever see are NGO statements and wannabe policy analysts like you exhorting us to address the “root causes” while blithely dismissing the alcoholic elephant in the room.

    Take off your beer goggles and smell the coffee: the riot was a result of alcohol and cultural priors — mob justice in response to traffic accidents are not uncommon in India. Pair that with alcohol and we have a combustible mix.

    People have rioted for less in the U.S.

    Phillies winning the world series, promptly resulting in exultant, destructive rioting, anyone? Or were they ‘oppressed’ too?

    Who are you trying to kid?

    • Tana Sekaran December 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      ‘mob justice in response to traffic accidents are not uncommon in India. Pair that with alcohol and we have a combustible mix”. Here we go with the synonyms words of Indians and Alcohol. Animals such as primates and elephants go to rampage when one member of its team is killed. There’s no way I am suggesting that what these workers displayed were hardihood. What we need are feasible answers for the lack of policing in little India in comparison to other part of Singapore. Surely, there must have been ignition that caused these pack behaviour in these workers. I am afraid unless the overused Alcohol adjectives are lessen, this riot will go down in the history of Singapore as “Alcohol infused South Asian caused the 2013 riot”

  5. Tana Sekaran December 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Yes, agreed with most of what is written here. The blatant stigmatization that these workers were drunk and alcohol is the prime cause of this riot is incomprehensible!


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