Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong (Tong) has, in an interview with TODAY, sounded the government’s battle cry against online falsehoods”. Based on his declarations, it is clear that the government takes a firm and hard line stance against what it perceives as “fake news”. Tong even attempted to define “fake news” by quoting Justice Andrew Phang who wrote that something “is false when the facts as asserted do not correspond with the facts as they exist”.
Does this mean that the controversial Channel News Asia (CNA) documentary “Regardless of Class” is “fake news”?
According to news reports, it would appear that the documentary in question may have been selectively edited to support a certain narrative. RICE Media has pointed out that certain portions of the interview were portrayed out of context in order to emphasize the “elitism” the documentary was trying to capture. This has led to some participants receiving public backlash that may not have been warranted.
In responding to assertions that alternative news sites should be given similar access as the mainstream media to uphold the same professional journalistic standards, Tong had made clear that having access is a “different question” altogether from falsehood. If this is the benchmark, isn’t it worst that CNA had the complete picture and all the facts but still chose to edit information in a slanted way?
Applying the definition of “falsehoods” as set out by Tong, this documentary would certainly fall into the “fake news” category. What action will the government take against CNA for this breach? Will the government take action to suppress CNA’s operations to prevent such fake news from circulating? If not, why not? What is the difference between this and an online media outlet that makes alleged unfounded assertions against the government? Isn’t CNA making unfounded accusations against the participants of the documentary and enabling viewers to similarly misunderstand? Why is the government seemingly only accusing some media outlets of perpetuating “fake news” and not others?
In view of these, I would be interested to hear Tong’s take on the CNA documentary. Does he consider this “fake news”?
Not only has the selective editing of the documentary created backlash for the participants, it has also created a false understanding of what is ostensibly a serious issue in Singapore. Does this not trivialise and misrepresent the issue of inequality in Singapore? How can a documentary that is premised on “creative editing” be taken seriously?