Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods: How to respond

Same professional standards for mainstream, alternative media

Professional journalism standards include ensuring fairness, accuracy and intellectual integrity, and should apply to all media platforms, said the committee.
Professional journalism standards include ensuring fairness, accuracy and intellectual integrity, and should apply to all media platforms, said the committee.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Quality journalism and fact-checking

In the fight against fake news, mainstream news organisations and alternative media platforms should abide by the same professional standards of journalism, while journalists of all stripes should update their fact-checking skills and be trained to provide accurate news.

These recommendations are part of a swathe of countermeasures against fake news that the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoodsunveiled yesterday.

Professional journalism standards, it said, include ensuring fairness, accuracy and intellectual integrity in reporting, and these standards should apply to both mainstream news outlets and alternative media that operate only online.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, a member of the panel, said this addresses the issue of which journalism skills a person should possess before he can be considered a journalist.

If someone is acting like a news platform or as a media outlet, that person has a responsibility to be professional, said Dr Janil.

To ramp up the training of journalists, the committee urged news organisations, technology companies and institutes of higher learning to consider ways to provide such learning opportunities, such as courses and workshops.

The training should include techniques for ensuring accuracy in a new and rapidly evolving digital news environment, it added.

It noted that accurate journalism helps prevent otherwise credible news sources from becoming agents in amplifying deliberate online falsehoods, whether intentional or not.

 
 
 
 
 

Journalists, on their part, need to "proactively find ways to update their skills in digital fact-checking and arm themselves with knowledge of how online falsehoods and disinformation campaigns work", the committee said.

It noted that accurate journalism helps prevent otherwise credible news sources from becoming agents in amplifying deliberate online falsehoods, whether intentional or not.

Some who gave their views to the panel, like Professor Kalina Bontcheva from the computer science department of Sheffield University in England, said the mainstream media had sometimes published blatant lies.

Others stressed the importance of maintaining a trusted mainstream media because accurate journalism provides an option for news-seekers who might otherwise turn to websites peddling false news or other questionable online platforms.

The report said: "Quality journalism is a pillar of a society's information ecosystem. It ensures effective communication between the Government and the people, and between different segments of society. It also helps the public understand the world around them."

It cited the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which found there is greater trust in mainstream media sources for general news and information than in news from various online and social media platforms.

Recognising a need for greater communication between the Government and news platforms committed to quality journalism, including alternative media, the committee said it would help build a relationship of trust that is committed to the pursuit of truth.

Dr Janil said: "We hope that over time, we can see the quality of journalism in all kinds of platforms improve, and that will be good for professional journalists, and for us as a citizenry."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2018, with the headline 'Same professional standards for mainstream, alternative media'. Print Edition | Subscribe