Select Committee on fake news: Team up to fight falsehoods

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods has proposed that a fact-checking coalition of news organisations and other industry partners be formed to swiftly and credibly debunk falsehoods. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A fact-checking coalition of news organisations and other industry partners should be formed to swiftly and credibly debunk falsehoods, the Select Committee on fake news proposed on Thursday (Sept 20).

The group could be made up of media and technology organisations, with these otherwise competing entities pooling resources and tapping their expertise to fact-check falsehoods quickly and effectively, the committee said in its report.

But the jury is out on the role the Government should play in such a coalition, the report added.

The committee noted the diverging opinions expressed during public hearings on fake news earlier this year regarding the state's role in fact-checking.

Some felt that if the Government were involved, the initiative could be perceived as spreading propaganda rather than unbiased facts.

National University of Singapore law undergraduate Shaun Lim argued that a non-independent initiative may not be able to objectively conduct fact-checks when issues of politics or governance are involved. Typically, these are the areas that require fact-checking.

Others, on the other hand, felt the Government should be involved as state-backed information is needed to debunk falsehoods. Representatives from media organisations Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and Channel NewsAsia testified that the Government has to play a part in the fact-checking process for matters concerning national security.

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The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods made 22 recommendations in a 176-page report submitted to Parliament, about five months after it held public hearings.

The committee urged the Government to consider its role in fact-checking, keeping in mind the high trust people have in public institutions and the possible resource constraints faced by the coalition.

"Ultimately, whether a fact-checking coalition will be trusted and relied upon by people depends on its credibility and its effectiveness," said the committee.

"A fact-checking coalition that ends up being a partisan, propaganda mouthpiece of the government of the day will very quickly lose its credibility, be of no utility to people and, as one representor pointed out, end up damaging the government's own reputation in the process."

The committee concluded that a fact-checking coalition must have enough independence and competence, and must be committed to presenting the truth to the people. The suggestion for a coalition was one of several mooted by the 170 individuals and organisations, including SPH, which made representations to the panel.

Responding to the report, Ms Han Yong May, editor of SPH's Chinese Media Group NewsHub, said the coalition will help raise awareness and curb the spread of harmful falsehoods that affect Singapore's social and national interests.

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, said: "SPH believes that good journalism, which is credible and trusted by our readers, as well as informed and media-savvy citizens are key answers to the challenge of dealing with fake news.

"We are glad that our proposals have been taken on board by the committee. We stand ready to work with other media players to contribute to this wherever possible."

A Mediacorp spokesman said it is studying the committee's extensive report closely.

The committee, however, noted that fact-checking may have a limited effect on those with entrenched views.

Said panel member Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development: "We have to recognise that fact-checking could potentially face some limitations... There were various representors who told us that falsehood travels faster than truth."

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