Whole-of-nation effort needed to combat fake news: Iswaran

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is a pragmatic response to the changes in the online space. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - 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 on Wednesday (May 8), 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 not to 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 around the region at the opening of Publish Asia, an annual meeting for media professionals from the region.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is a pragmatic response to the changes in the online space, he said. However, this is not sufficient.

"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 the news team to continually upgrade their skills to remain relevant and responsive, he said.

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

"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."

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