A Temperate Response

But is it apology or justification?


musingmutley replies

A few hours ago, a welcome admission to a “lapse in judgment” was posted on the IG page of musingmutley, aka Norman Tan, editor-in-chief of the soon-to-launch Vogue Singapore. SOTD understands from feedback that Mr Tan’s incautious sharing of photographs of Vogue SG staff at work without, it appears, observing social distancing has been “going the rounds”. It is not certain if Mr Tan had his ears to the subsequent ringing chatter, but the promptness of his response suggests he must have at least read Kien Lee’s Facebook post* and wanted to set the record straight.

However, some who have read the five-page message on his Instagram Stories thought that, while perspicuous, it does not sound like an apology. Titled “Social Distancing”, it explains what happened on the day Mr Tan and his staff were in their office: “It was such a joy to see the members of the team in person after months of only seeing them through a screen.” But he gave his word that they kept within what the authorities had set out. “We adopted and implemented the safeguards stipulated by the government,” he wrote reassuringly.

One writer with a local magazine, who is still working from home, told us, “but this wasn’t what we saw. What we did see in those photographs were a group of people gathering without the 1-metre distancing.” Another, who has also stuck to WFH, said, “as members of the media, we should know the importance and consequence of optics. What’s seen cannot be unseen.” Most of us understand that offices can re-open. However, telecommuting is recommended as the main mode of work. Many members of the media, as far as we are aware, are still editing, writing, and designing from home. Some said it’s unfair that there are magazine staff working full-strength in the office while most, if not all, are doing so at home. One editor we spoke to was emphatic, “If you can work from home, you should.”

This seems to suggest that he is apologetic for the reactions to his photographic posts, not his own actions


It has been noted that Mr Tan wrote in the third page, “I recognise this was a lapse in judgment and I apologise for the concern this might have caused.” This seems to suggest that he is apologetic for the reactions to his photographic posts, not his own actions. A digital editor, also WFH, did not mince words: “There is no apology, not for his flippant action. Seriously, are you so seized with ‘joy’ to see your staff again, so much so that you want to take photos of the moment and post them for the world to see?” Including one photograph captioned, “It’s Christmas in the IMV office!” The editor added, “with that exclamation mark of delight.”

One point of contention is the apparent gloating of the work team’s “All stocked up with @apple MacBooks, Apple Watches and iPhone 11 Pros”, products assumed to be the result of a “barter” with Apple (which may explain the necessity of tagging the brand in the photo), a not-uncommon practice of acquiring what’s needed in exchange for ad space or social media mentions. Industry veterans we spoke to concur that, given the present time, when jobs are lost and retail spending is considerably reduced, the photographic show-off errs on the side of questionable taste. A now-disappeared IG page Diet Bazaar—purported to be the media industry’s version of Influencer Glassdoor—wrote, “seeing them do this, when they could have chosen to be a little sensitive to what is happening right now does leave a sour taste in your mouth.”

Mr Tan, a prolific IG user, should understand what photographs captured for social media can tell or effect. And readers do hold Vogue to a higher, if not the highest, standard. We know we do. While it is clear that people now live their personal and professional lives digitally, the musingmutley posts are easily seen as imprudent. Some measure of restrain, therefore, would be considered empathetic, even when the pandemic is seemingly mitigated. One PR manager, who frequently deals with the press, was, conversely, impressed by Mr Tan’s position. “No direct apology is one thing, it’s very clever of him to turn this into a rallying call for the industry.” The publishing industry, like the fashion industry, is going through difficult times. While unthinking actions should be called out, there are other more exigent matters to consider too. The old saying, “let bygones be bygones”, is now particularly alluring. We look forward to The September Issue of Vogue SG.

*Presently removed (5 June, 11:30). And then it’s there again (15:55)! We stopped tracking (18:00).

Screen shots: musingmutley/Instagram Stories

Vogue SG’s First Scandal?

Members of the staff were apparently going through some hours in the office as what looks like full-strength crew


Vogue's back at work June 2020

It isn’t certain if the Vogue SG office is cleared by the authorities to resume work without safe distancing measures in place. But recently posted Facebook photos that look like screen shots of Instagram Stories seem to suggest that measures implemented since the start of the Circuit Breaker two months ago are not applicable to the Vogue team. They were shown to be in the office, savouring what may be considered close proximity. Just two days earlier, to the relief of many, the lockdown was eased. Regardless, if working in the office is a must or demonstrably necessary, “those in the same shift or team must be at least 1m apart and wear a mask at all times,” as reported in The Straits Times.

A total of four, people-filled photos were posted, with three attributed to musingmutley, a known handle of Vogue SG’s appointed-in-April Aussie editor-in-chief Norman Tan, who once wrote in Buro (where he was once also its EIC) about millennials, noting their “idealism hampered by impatience”. These photos were shared last night, at 10.34, by Kien Lee, the main man behind Senatus, on his personal Facebook page. Together with the photos, Mr Lee wrote, “I understand my peers will find it tough on their personal careers to call this out personally so I’ll do it cos nobody can fire me. #VogueSG did not follow social distancing guidelines when they were so happy receiving Apple Store Singapore gifts of Macbooks, iPhones and iWatches.”

Two wefies appeared to be shot by Mr Tan, until recently the editor of Esquire SG, during what he described as a “tour” of the office, said to be in Syed Awi Road, where parent company Indochine Media Ventures (IMV) is sited. To be sure, one of the captions expressed the photographer’s concern: “First day back in the office and I feel you guys are too close.” Awareness sans action is, as one office manager we spoke to said, “paying lip service. Even Anna is working from home!”

Vogue SG, is published under license agreement with IMV, also publisher of Esquire SG, Buro, and Robb Report. The first issue is expected to “launch in Autumn” this year, which is taken to mean September. In a statement issued to the media in January, Condé Nast stated that “Vogue Singapore rejoins the market at a time when Singapore’s local fashion design and talent are rising in the country and across the entire region.” This was before COVID-19 became a pandemic.

“Rejoins” was correctly put. It would be Vogue SG’s second attempt at capturing a slice of the magazine pie here. Its first early issue, curiously managed and edited by Vogue Australia, appeared in September 1994. Just three years later, after 29 issues, what was considered a fashion bible quietly wrapped up. The comeback of Vogue—our own, not the “Singaporean version of Vogue Australia”, as it was once called—understandably would have excited the staff to want to return to the swim of things—perhaps not this eagerly.

Updates (4 June 2020, 10:05): As of this morning, the public FB posts are no longer available to view. (4 June 2020, 15:20): The post is made public again. (5 June 2020, 09:40): Removed again.

Update: (8 June 2020, 09:10). The New Paper reported on the controversial post today and cited an MOM advisory, which said: “Employers must ensure that employees do not socialise or congregate in groups at the workplace, including during meals or breaks. Where physical interaction cannot be avoided precautions should be taken to ensure clear physical spacing of at least one metre between persons at all times.” 

Screen grabs: Facebook