Collaborate, call out fake news to uphold trust in media: Editors

ST political editor Zakir Hussain said news outlets should call out "false and insidious" reports and help educate readers.
ST political editor Zakir Hussain said news outlets should call out "false and insidious" reports and help educate readers.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

In order to combat the onslaught of fake news, news organisations have to be diligent, uphold ethics and better engage readers to maintain public confidence in what they publish, four media editors said yesterday.

"Until we do that, fake news is going to haunt us," Mr Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of Bangladesh's The Daily Star, told a panel discussion on how news publishers should deal with falsehoods as social media becomes an increasingly popular source of news for readers.

He was speaking at a forum titled Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media, a two-day event jointly organised by The Straits Times (ST) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

How to uphold trust and avoid falling for fake news was a key focus of one panellist. Said Ms Sophie Nicholson, social media editor at wire agency Agence France-Presse: "We have to keep up to date with the changes in the environment, be more transparent and be clearer about how we work, so that the public is aware of why it is important to go to a source that is verified."

Ms Nicholson and Mr Anam were among the four panellists at a session moderated by CNN freelance news anchor Manisha Tank.

Besides being transparent about the methods behind getting a story, panellist Zakir Hussain, ST's political editor, outlined how news organisations can deal with fake news.

They should call out "false and insidious" reports they might otherwise have downplayed, debunk fake news and its agenda, and help educate readers to spot falsehoods and correct disinformation, he said.

But challenges remain in the amount of infrastructure and cooperation needed in fact-checking, to combat fake news on a larger scale.

Ms Nicholson raised the example of resources and training needed to launch collaborative journalism verification project CrossCheck, which had funding from Google.

It brought together journalists from organisations across France, some of whom were competitors, with the aim of swiftly debunking false claims during the French presidential election earlier this year.

But cooperation - not just among news media, but also with technology platforms journalists may have run into issues with - is key.

Ms Nicholson said: "We have got to experiment, and we have got to make friends with the tech companies and explore what we can do together."

Panellist Karolin Schwarz, founder of Hoaxmap.org, which seeks to debunk false rumours about migrants, also said collaboration is crucial. While fake news websites are not a huge problem in Germany, she said, falsehoods are circulated on social media, as are falsely attributed photos, videos and quotes.

Hence, it is important to work with local agencies and others to verify the truth, she said.

Mr Anam said of the rise of fake news: "Today, journalism faces one of its more crucial existential challenges." But he sees it as an opportunity, and said that two things are needed: "More international solidarity and transfer of skills, and also, a little more pride among journalists about their own profession."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Collaborate, call out fake news to uphold trust in media: Editors'. Print Edition | Subscribe