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The View From Asia

Does truth matter in the media?

The importance of the media has been in the spotlight, with Asia News Network papers discussing the state of the media in the United States, press verification moves in Indonesia and measures to limit places open to journalists in Japan. Here are excerpts:
 
In Trump's America, truth is held hostage
 
Editorial
The Nation, Thailand
 
The United States President vilifies the very media he once devotedly courted.
It has been appalling to see how the new administration in the US has ridden roughshod over a large segment of the news media - outright barring reporters from such White House-coverage stalwarts as CNN, BBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post from daily press briefings.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees media freedom and public access to information. Mr Donald Trump might be willing to uphold that statute - as long as he can define the media and the information.

In his view, truth as it has traditionally been known no longer exists. He wants to be the sole source of a new kind of truth, delivered in tweets and extemporaneous asides in his speeches.

Mr Trump's fondness for prevarication leads him to denigrate the voices that seek to counter his lies with honesty and facts. He knows many Americans mistrust the mainstream media and uses that to dismiss press attacks on his misbehaviour and unsuitability for high office.

Already reeling after its misguided analyses of the election campaign and likely outcome, the media finds itself unable to effectively convey facts now, when they are needed most.

The White House and its entranced supporters are no longer willing to accept "truth" as presented in the dictionary, in science textbooks or even in the venerable Constitution itself, let alone the mainstream media.

Media and rights watchdogs will surely not sit still for such misled reorganisation of the news landscape.

Is media verification effective?

Elly Burhaini Faizal
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

China is the only major nation able to impose strict Internet control. With a strong censorship apparatus, including a reported 30,000 personnel policing the Internet, China is the country with the harshest online control.

Stressing its desire to protect the public from the plague of fake news on social media, Indonesia's Press Council recently announced the names of media companies listed as "verified". It claims the verification process is aimed at creating a healthy media environment.

Like it or not, such media verification has brought back dark memories of press control under former president Suharto. The question is: Can Indonesia curb the spread of fake news or false stories in this fast-growing digital media era unless it imposes strict Internet control, like in China?

Elements of verification include the legality of a media corporation, the content of its news coverage, the existence of an editorial board, the company's ability to pay its journalists properly, and the availability of a journalism code of conduct. Through such verification, the Press Council wants to ensure that a media corporation fulfils all the requirements needed to enable it to implement its full function as a free and responsible press.

The council believes verification will force news organisations and online publishers to apply a high standard of journalism and truthful reporting.

There is widespread concern that such certification will become no more than censorship in a new guise. Furthermore, several parties in the media community have expressed concerns that in the face of libel threats, the council may have its hands tied and may not be able to help them if their media has not been verified. The council therefore should explain to the press community its policies and measures in such cases.

Tight Internet censorship may sound promising in stopping fake news. But for Indonesia, imposing such strong censorship may lead to a decline in democracy and undermine respect for fundamental freedoms that the country has long fought for.

With Indonesia's increasingly mature democracy, website blocking should be used only as a last resort as it does more harm than good in terms of respect for and fulfilment of people's rights.

Reporters seen as foes

Editorial
The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

What is the motive and aim for the latest move to shut out news organisations? The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has started measures to keep all offices in its main building locked up even during the daytime. Responses to news-gathering activities are to be made in conference rooms or separate rooms, the ministry said.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said: "It is problematic that documents left on office desks can be looked at, as circumstances stand now, and the situation needs to be improved."

It is extremely unusual for a central government ministry to uniformly lock up all offices in its building. The news media has demanded that the ministry's decision be retracted. Doubts have been voiced by other Cabinet members about Mr Seko's stance.

The latest case amounts to taking a relationship of trust with news organisations lightly and trying to convey only the information favourable to its sender.


  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Does truth matter in the media?'. Print Edition | Subscribe