The advent of social media has caused propaganda to thrive as the manipulation of public opinion on a wider scale becomes more achievable.
During the gala dinner celebration of Channel News Asia (CNA)’s 20th anniversary on Friday (29 March), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill that will be introduced for first reading in Parliament on Monday (1 April).
The new legislation empowers the Government to prevent online news sources and platforms from proliferating fake news by holding them accountable.
“This includes requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter,” Mr Lee expounded.
Today, there is no shortage of people and groups who conduct coordinated campaigns to produce fake news to misinform and mislead for reasons such as financial gain, to sow social discord or even to radicalise people, Mr Lee said.
Social media platforms propagate such fake news together with factual stories and are either “unwilling or unable” to take action to block the misinformation, he added.
However, Mr Lee also asserted that legislation alone is not enough. “It has to be supplemented by a citizenry effort, alert to the problem of fake news, well informed of what is happening in the world around them and provided with the means to make sound assessments of what they read and hear,” he said, equating the approach with crime prevention.
“We have strict laws against crime, which are strictly enforced, but each of us still needs to take our own precautions and be the front line of defence working with the police to keep Singapore crime-free.”
According to Mr Lee, that is the reason why public education initiatives are important, with students in schools being taught information literacy and cyber wellness, and the National Library Board providing information literacy tips for students, adults and seniors.
He also mentioned that the Government has a fact-checking website Factually, where the public can obtain accurate information on Government policies or issues of public interest.
Yet, spotting fake news is “easier said than done” and people are generally “overconfident” about their ability to do so.
Mr Lee cited a recent survey where 8 in 10 Singaporean respondents were confident in their ability to identify fake news, but 9 in 10 of them wrongly identified a fake news headline when they were tested with 10 news headlines.
This is where media outlet CNA (Channel NewsAsia) continues to play a critical role in society by “upgrading itself, investing in its people, building new capabilities and taking advantage of Singapore’s status as a media and technology hub”.
As the Government continue to work hand in hand with CNA, Mr Lee encouraged the news provider to “maintain links with the media and tech companies here, learn from them and build partnerships and networks” in order to “stay always up to date on industry developments”.
“We can be certain that fresh forms of new media, many not yet invented, will regularly emerge and force you to change the way you work. You must be quick to spot them, respond to them, and if possible use them to reach audiences old and new,” he prompted.
“We share an interest in fostering an informed society through quality journalism, and we will continue to work with you to promote national and social objectives through our public service broadcast programmes,” he said in conclusion of his speech.
On another note, a whistleblower shared a video with TOC where journalists from CNA shared their views on the news in Singapore and their role as “journalist”. Titled “Everything you ever wanted to know about TV & Media but were afraid to ask”, the presentation was held at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) on 12 October 2016.
Steve Chia who was a Presenter-cum-Editor at CNA for 13 years affirmed that CNA does “propaganda” and was recorded saying, “The media is not the…watchdog to pounce on politicians and not to hold people accountable. That is not our role here.”
Lam Shushan, CNA’s digital producer for 4 years, maintained that she has no interest in being “the watchdog of politicians”. Meanwhile, another CNA producer of 5 years named Low Minmin shared her “tiring” experiences of dealing with censorship and how it affected her emotionally.
When one of the audience asked the journalists if there is democracy in Singapore based on justice and if the other parties are given “fair” freedom of speech, Mr Chia reverted the question back to the audience and asked them for a show of hands in agreement. None of them raised their hands.
Although the video recording was outdated, its relevance to the current situation of Singapore’s media landscape provided much insight into the industry as well as the need for the country to support independent media by securing the rights for its citizens.