Fake news: Just make mainstream media more credible

By Tan Bah Bah

Singapore mainstream media say they want to inform and engage. Fundamental to this would be that they have to be seen as credible. SPH’s mission statement is: “To engage, entertain and enrich audiences by harnessing the power of creativity.” Mediacorp’s is: “To inform, educate and entertain.”

Of course, they would not carry uncorroborated or, some would say, “uncleared (unapproved)” stories. Fine. Obviously then the proposed new laws on fake news and falsehoods would be targeted at sources other than the MSM. Local and from abroad.

Such a futile exercise. It would benefit everyone more if efforts are made to improve the mainstream media instead.

Not for the first time, the perceived problem is, to use a phrase which was popular in the early days of the Internet, the Wild Wild Net.  Ah, so little has changed. After all these years, it’s still the untamed frontier? The purveyor of so much fake news and falsehoods from which the innocent and undiscerning citizens should be protected – with yet more heavy-handed regulation?

Trojan horses in our midst, barbarians at our gates, innocent lambs to shepherd or guard. Scenario command and control planning 101.

And to further dramatise the situation, try the famous but hackneyed and, in this case, irrelevant Bad Old Malaysian Village Experience days story. Racial strife. Wild rumours. Baby cries. Narrow escape. Presumably the telling of this story in Parliament earlier this week was to, what? To show off the tough background from which that particular MP, an ex-Malaysian, came? And what has that got to do with fake news?

Singaporeans are not idiots. We can recognise fake news AND fake and stupid anecdotes. We can read – and read in between the lines. DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam said so.

The best way to fight fake news and falsehoods is not to tell silly stories. Not to restrict information or impede seekers of information. Not to control dialogue and offer one-sided pictures. Not to regard every Singaporean who does not agree with you as an adversary. Not to seek the easy way out in the hard battle for people’s minds and hearts. Not to lose by default or omission because you are comfortable only with sycophantic group-thinkers.

Start by liberalising the MSM. Give them the freedom to disseminate unfettered and unbiased information and news. Let them inform and truly engage. Otherwise all the laws in the world will not be able to stop the barbarians at our too small gates.

“Most individuals can’t personally verify most factual claims that we hear. If you think about some of the things you personally believe that are fact, there are many that you have not personally verified. It would be tremendously inefficient for all of us to try to personally verify all of these things. We have to have a setting where we trust other people.”

  • Paul Resnick, Professor of Information at the University of Michigan

Diabetes: Essentially a cultural war

The diabetes war will never be won – unless there is a serious mindset change at the cultural and community level.

Almost all Asian cuisines are high on sugar and oil content, especially local ones. Just look at the unhealthy food at every shopping mall, restaurant and hawker centre.

The list is intimidating – fried chicken, deep fried curry puffs, fatty meat burgers, pisang goreng, bak kut teh, roti prata, soup kambing, chilly crab, chye tau kway, char kway teow, chendol, gula melaka, kueh lopis, chocolates, pineapple tarts and so on.

Come Chinese New Year in February, all the lectures and discussions at the CJ sessions will be quickly forgotten.

Be really, really serious – do like what we did with smoking. Have the courage of conviction to do the unpopular but necessary. Don’t wayang.

Start this CNY. And the next Hari Raya Puasa or Deepavali.  Stop eating all the unhealthy goodies or at least look for alternatives with minimum or no sugar.

The Citizens Jury on the war on diabetes has its work cut out. If the seniors in our families do not set an example, their children or grandchildren will end up just as diabetic which will be followed almost inevitably by kidney failure. Both are chronic diseases.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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