Publish Asia

Key role for media, society in fake news fight: Iswaran

Minister also witnesses launch of World Editors Forum's Asia Chapter, led by ST editor

In the fight against misinformation, the Government, the media and the community all have a key role to play, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran yesterday morning, as he mounted a stout defence of the need for the fake news legislation.

Speaking ahead of a parliamentary debate on the fake news Bill, he said it would be remiss of the Government to not swiftly stem the spread and counter the effects of misinformation directed by malicious actors.

He was addressing a group of media executives and editors from the region at the opening of Publish Asia, an annual meeting of media professionals from the region.

It was held at Novotel Singapore On Stevens hotel.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is a pragmatic response to the changes in the online space, Mr Iswaran said.

However, this is not sufficient, he added. "An important antidote to deliberate online falsehoods is quality journalism," said Mr Iswaran, adding that journalism should not be a race to capture eyeballs.

The news industry has to uphold the ideals and high standards of the profession through credible news reporting, he said.

Some ways to do so include training journalists, and encouraging news teams to continually upgrade their skills to remain relevant and responsive, the minister added.

It is also useful to constantly remind news teams to never compromise on accuracy and credibility in the midst of delivering news to audiences quickly, he said.

"I cannot over-emphasise the importance of credible, accurate news sources, especially when we are dealing with a plethora of options through the Internet which can generate much noise, much heat, but often very little light," said Mr Iswaran, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security.

But it is not enough to just have a suite of efforts from the Government and the news industry, said Mr Iswaran, as fighting fake news is a whole-of-nation effort, and the community has an important role to play.

One way would be to have ground-up initiatives aimed at strengthening digital literacy among the public, he added, noting that there have been several efforts to do so in Singapore.

"Legislation complements - and does not replace - our suite of tools to deal with deliberate online falsehoods," said Mr Iswaran.

"A well-informed and discerning public is our first, and most important, line of defence."

He also witnessed the launch of a new Asia Chapter of the World Editors Forum (WEF), set up by editors from 15 news organisations around the region.

Agreeing on the need to collaborate to address pressing issues facing newsrooms, the WEF Asia Chapter will tackle challenges such as the need to safeguard journalists' and newsrooms' freedom to operate and remain credible, and develop newsroom capabilities to respond to relentless media disruption because of technology.

At a meeting the day before at The Straits Times newsroom, editors agreed to promote World News Day in this region, to celebrate the contributions made by professional journalists towards good governance in societies.

They will also share best practices on efforts to transform their newsrooms to become multimedia operations, as well as have internship partnerships with leading media schools around the region.

Partnerships with like-minded foundations will also be forged to make training programmes more accessible to newsrooms and journalists, especially younger ones.

The WEF Asia Chapter has elected Mr Warren Fernandez, editor of The Straits Times, as its founding chairman. He said: "Editors recognise that our newsrooms face big challenges, which we should collaborate to address, as well as many opportunities, which we can work together to make the most of."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Key role for media, society in fake news fight: Iswaran'. Print Edition | Subscribe