Regional task force one way to fight bogus political news

With fake news becoming a growing concern during such political events as the United States presidential election last November and Jakarta's election for governor in April, regional media outlets yesterday discussed ways to be pro-active in guarding against the spread of misinformation and falsehoods.

One suggestion was to set up a regional task force to verify rumours during such major events.

But there is a risk, said The Straits Times managing editor Fiona Chan.

In educating people about misinformation, newspapers would look like they are supporting the party that has been attacked, she added.

"(We have to) be aware that as media players, we are not putting out a partisan stance about it," she said.

Ms Chan was summing up the discussion of a session on fact-checking at the end of a two-day conference on fake news jointly organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra).

She also noted that news organisations tend to collaborate only during a crisis, when there is "more shared interest in fighting misinformation than worrying about competitive interest".

It prompted Wan-Ifra's Asia director Gilles Demptos to propose that newspapers in the region form a loose coalition, an "Asian election task force".

It could be introduced for the upcoming general election in Malaysia, with the country's news organisations taking the lead in correcting misinformation.

Others can play a supporting role and put into practice the lessons learnt, when their own country holds an election, Ms Chan said.

Hong Kong University lecturer Anne Kruger said it is an opportunity for journalists to rethink how they approach reporting.

The focus has traditionally been on who is winning or losing. But fact-checking would force them to look deeper into policies and what citizens want, she said.

"You are fact-checking not just hoaxes, news items that are coming through, but also pushing through a little bit more of a civic journalism type of approach, where we try to get some answers for society as well," she said.

Around the world, the spread of falsehoods has made headlines during elections.

In the days leading up to the United Kingdom's general election this month, for example, the Conservatives were accused of creating "fake news" in a video that went viral and a Facebook advertisement, both misrepresenting Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'Regional task force one way to fight bogus political news'. Print Edition | Subscribe