Panel discusses role of ST, Zaobao in fake news fight

The fight against falsehoods could also start with "any agency which has tremendous credibility and trust in the eyes of the public", said Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
The fight against falsehoods could also start with "any agency which has tremendous credibility and trust in the eyes of the public", said Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.PHOTO: GOV.SG

Newspapers such as The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao can play a part in debunking disinformation, said Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He noted that in some countries, major networks or websites like Facebook have sometimes engaged national newspapers to help with fact checking.

The fight against falsehoods, he added, does not necessarily have to begin with the Government, but could also start with "any agency which has tremendous credibility and trust in the eyes of the public".

In Singapore's case, "ways should be found to support The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, in a nuanced and calibrated fashion, such that they can once again be seen as the pre-eminent news sources, bar none, in the eyes of the Singapore public", Dr Shashi said in his written submission.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam noted that while ST's print circulation may have been slipping, "the online figures appear to be going up".

Annual reports by Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes both papers, show that from 2015 to last year, ST's print circulation fell from 304,300 to 263,200. But digital circulation rose from 74,100 to 120,400.

The combined numbers in that same period show a marginal increase as well, said Mr Shanmugam, presenting slides showing they rose from 378,400 to 383,600.

"The point we both probably can agree on is that you need good newspapers which people can trust. But again, that is not going to be the silver bullet. It has got to be one of a series of solutions," he said later.

Dr Shashi said: "Everyone has a part to play. The Straits Times has a part to play. It is a superb newspaper and has widespread credibility, and if you include digital, the readership is helpful. But in an anti-fake news coalition, one would argue the (newspaper of) record has an important role to play."

Reacting to the comments, ST editor Warren Fernandez said: "Our overall readership continues to grow as more people are reading us online, or on their mobile phones, on social media, as well as in print. So, while print numbers have seen a gradual decline, in line with global trends, we have many more points of contact with our readers throughout the day than just the print product in the mornings.

"So, our main challenge is not so much readership; it is more about keeping revenues healthy and on a sustainable level, as producing reliable and quality content is a costly business. To do so, we have to serve our readers well, and strive to continue to earn their trust as a credible source of news and views on the major events that matter to them."

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2018, with the headline 'Panel discusses role of ST, Zaobao in fake news fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe