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Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in a forum that the government is preparing to introduce new laws to combat fake news after consulting with stakeholders in the second half of this year.

Fake news: Who decides what is real and what is fake?

by Tan Kin Lian

Long ago, most people trusted the mainstream media. They took care to verify the facts and to present an objective view. The government also acted as the gatekeeper and ensured that the media presented the news accurately and fairly.

They also trusted the government agencies. For example, a government agency is responsible to approve medications to be sold over the counter to the public. The agency tested the medications and made sure that the approved medications are safe and effective.

During the past two decades, the agencies did not carry out their work with integrity. We now learned that the FDA in America were indirectly financed by the drug companies in some ways or another. People started to doubt if some of the decisions of the FDA were impartial or were influenced by financial considerations.

The same doubts were raised about the integrity of the politicians in America. Did they vote on legislations according to what is in the best interest of their voters, or in the interest of the people who gave financial donations to their expensive election campaigns. It was clear that most of them voted according to the wishes of their donors.

The same doubts can be raised about the corporate news media in America. Did they present and slant the news in favour of their corporate owners and advertisers?

These problems in America were and are very serious. It had led to a low level of trust in the government and its institutions.

Coming back to Singapore, we faced similar challenges.

Many people questioned the integrity and impartiality of our mainstream media.

Did they bring out the news fairly and impartially or did they slanted the news to be in favor of the government? Many people now doubt the impartiality of the news from the mainstream media, due to the political influence and self censorship.

Many people also questioned the decisions taken by the government in passing laws.

Were the laws passed for the best interest of the people or to preserve and protect the party in power? Are the real issues faced by the people being identified and addressed? Did they government ignored these issues in their quest to remain in power?

The government now wants to pass legislation to curb fake news. Who decides what is real and what is fake? Who decides what are facts and what are opinions? Is this legislation a further attempt to curb the free flow of information, so that only the "real news", as decided by the government, gets disseminated to the public?

I do not know how to address this question. It is now quite difficult to determine what is real and what is not. It is easy to be influenced by experts who might be giving slanted views, due to financial or political influence.

My approach is to treat all news with a source of scepticism. I rely on my common sense to tell me if the news is reliable or not. Do you agree with this approach?