Channel NewsAsia/ Facebook

CNA fails to do fact-checking when reporting on online news site, Observer+

On 28 April (Sunday), Channel NewsAsia (CNA) published an article titled “An AI-driven online news site? Observer+ taps automation to serve up fast food news” which talked about Observer+, a news site, that is looking to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to pick out major news of the day, its most important points and re-package coverage based on what the online audience wants to read and is talking about.

In the article, the author cited Observer’s Sarah Tang where she was quoted saying that in the site’s “first month operations last December, it reached 1.7 million page views and this has grown to 1.9 million in March this year. In terms of reader base, she said it is 70 per cent Singapore-based traffic and 20 per cent from Malaysia”.

Although the article quoted Tang, but it failed to do any fact-checking based on her claims before publishing the article.

A quick search on Alexa, reveals that Observer+ is ranked 1,317 in Singapore, and based on CNA’s article, the site received page views up to 1.9 million a month. But, upon comparing the figures with TOC’s ranking, something didn’t seem right.

Observer+ ranking in Singapore

As a comparison, TOC is placed 556 in Singapore under the same analytics and has only about 2 million views a month. Given that TOC is ranked almost 700 places above Observer+ in Singapore and above 100,000 places in Global rank, it’s hard to believe that the page views can be nearly the same.

TOC’s ranking taken from Alexa
TOC’s page views for March 2019

Looking at this, it clearly shows that CNA has failed to counter-check the numbers given by Tang before publishing the article for the public to read.

If that is not all, the article also said that the news site may be registered under a marketing technology firm called Blackwilder, if the need arises.

It said that Blackwilder is a registered business entity in Singapore and is part of a registered entity under Rockefeller Pte Ltd, which is owned by Azly J. Nor, the man who co-founded the Facebook page SMRT Feedback in 2015.

“In terms of working within the parameters of the law, Azly’s marketing technology firm Blackwilder is the registered business entity in Singapore. Blackwilder, in turn, is part of a registered entity under Rockefeller Pte Ltd that he owns.

“Should Observer+ hit the threshold needed for it to be licensed under the Broadcasting Act one day, similar to what was required of Yahoo or Mothership, this arrangement helps too.

“We have already planned for it. This comes back to the reason why we needed a public face,” Tang said. “When the time comes, Observer+ will go under the ownership of Blackwilder and will be operated within that Singapore entity.

“As Blackwilder already has its own P&L (profit and loss statement), any funds for (the) operation will come from them. We don’t accept foreign funding (nor) will there be a need to seek local funding,” she added.

But, the business status of Blackwilder, the company that Observer+ claimed to take ownership of the site, has long been cancelled as recorded by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

Although Rockfeller Pte Ltd is still in live company in Singapore, Blackwilder has ceased its operations.

Business status of Blackwilder

As such, this brings us to another question of how is it possible for the company to have its own profit and loss statement, or will be able to fund Observer+ if the company has stayed dormant for years?

Despite getting the information from an interviewee (Tang) and quoting her for the most parts of the article, it’s puzzling to know that CNA did not double-check her points and took it as gospel truth before publishing the article.