Editors, publishers discuss fake news and how to fight it

The Straits Times editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, Mr Warren Fernandez, speaks at the Digital Media Asia 2017 conference held at Orchard Hotel on Nov 2, 2017.
The Straits Times editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, Mr Warren Fernandez, speaks at the Digital Media Asia 2017 conference held at Orchard Hotel on Nov 2, 2017.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWAN PENG

SINGAPORE - With the rise of fake news, people are willing to pay for online news that they trust, research on digital media trends shows.

This means news organisations must find ways to win that trust - and therefore dollars - of readers, particularly youth, said editors, publishers and researchers at a conference on digital media.

Funding good quality news will help to counter fake news, which is a problem not just for media outlets but for all of society, they added.

The issue was among several discussed at the three-day Digital Media Asia 2017 conference which ended on Thursday (Nov 2).

"We do have data suggesting there is a relationship between trust in news and willingness to actually pay for digital news," said Chinese University of Hong Kong journalism professor Francis Lee.

He cited a regional version of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017, which polled 14,000 people in seven Asia-Pacific markets, including Singapore.

It found that trust in a news outlet can fuel people's willingness to pay for news, said Prof Lee.

But such readers are still in the minority, with only an average of 13 to 14 per cent of people paying for online news.

Said The Straits Times editor and editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English, Malay and Tamil Media Group, Mr Warren Fernandez: "We're all grappling with how to build a new business model that will enable us to deliver good journalism."

If news organisations and societies fail to get this right, it will pave the way for fake news to proliferate and democracy to be weakened, he added.

That is a big challenge for societies, not only for the media organisations, he said.

"Societies have to find a way to make sure that good content gets out there because if you don't do anything about it, bad content will drive out good content."

Mr Fernandez and other editors discussed how Asia-Pacific countries are fighting the spread of fake news.

These included workshops for journalists and a "hackathon" at which students brainstormed solutions to boost news literacy among people.

The authorities have stepped in too, like the police in Indonesia shutting down the Saracen fake news syndicate in September.

Jakarta Post editor-in-chief Endy Bayuni said that while more in Indonesia now know about the problems and disruptions of fake news, fake news has not been curtailed.

Citing an incident in Jakarta in September, when a mob attacked a legal aid group's headquarters based on rumours that communists were gathering there, he said: "Fake news can mobilise people and provoke them into violence."

The conference, organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra), also addressed business concerns such as using big data to understand user habits and software to make journalists more productive.