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Falling into the Buffalo Trap: Trust, Accuracy, and Fake News in Today’s Media

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Falling into the Buffalo Trap: Trust, Accuracy, and Fake News in Today’s Media

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The panel included Goh Sin Teck, Editor of Singapore Press Holdings’ Chinese language papers Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao; Wan Chern Kang, Editor and Business Editor of The Myanmar Times; and Chavarong Limpattamapanee, Chairman of the National Press Council of Thailand. 

Moderated by veteran broadcaster and managing editor of TheSignal.asia Teymoor Nabili, the panel went on to discuss the issues of fake news and disinformation and the challenges of maintaining accuracy in today’s fast-paced newsrooms. 

Goh cited how the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that Singaporeans’ trust in traditional media was at a 5-year high of 71%. “As an editor working for traditional media, I agree. Or else, why would people buy my papers?,” he said. 

Wan said that trust in the media in Myanmar is growing. “We have very few reputable news sources so if information comes from a reputable news source like the Myanmar Times, people take it as accurate. We quote our sources and have balanced views and the facts are there,” she said. 

Even with the recent changes in the Thai government, Limpattamapanee said that he was confident that the press would remain a reliable source. “I will assure you that the nature of the Thai press is that we always criticize the powers that be,” he said. Still, he conceded that there was questioning of reports from the Thai media. “We have to work on practicing more  fact checking, investigative reporting and in-depth data-driven reporting to gain public trust,” he said. 

Nabili then shifted the conversation to fake news, asking the panel about Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFM) Bill, which was designed to tackle deliberate online falsehoods and was passed in the Singaporean parliament on May 8. There has been much controversy over the bill, with worries that it could curb the freedom of speech in Singapore. 

Goh felt that the recent legislation would not affect the way he ran his papers. “I’m not in the business of creating falsehoods… With or without that regulation, truth in my stories is paramount,” he said. 

“In Thailand, when you fall into the trap of people creating fake news, we call it falling into the buffalo trap,” said Limpattamapanee. While newspapers are cautious to fact-check their sources, reporters sometimes still do ‘fall into the buffalo trap,’ he said. 

Still, Limpattamapanee felt that the Thai government should not follow Singapore in passing a fake news bill. “I think (a fake news bill) in Thailand would disturb freedom of information in the society. Regulations we have now, like cyber security laws, are more than enough to counter fake news,” he said. 

Limpattamapanee also highlighted the Thai News Agency’s Sure and Share Center, a fact-checking platform where members of the public can submit claims to be verified by editorial departments of news websites. 

Similarly, Wan felt that such a bill would not be passed in Myanmar anytime soon. “I think the government has their hands full. If it does come up, it will take them a couple of years to draft the law and get it passed,” she said. 

In the Question and Answer session that followed, an audience member asked the panel if in the age of digital media, where reporters are pressured to rush out stories, the process of verifying the accuracy of news has changed. 

Goh agreed that media outlets face a new challenge of balancing accuracy and speed, and said that Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao’s newsrooms have changed to address the problem. “In the old days, experienced editors were the gatekeepers and senior journalists would come in [to work] in the late afternoon. But the newspaper now is a 24-hour operation, so we had to move our veteran journalists to the front end,” he said. 

Nabili added that the challenge to maintain speed and accuracy is nothing new, and is an issue he has dealt with in the 24-hour news industry. 

Wan countered that newspapers’ value to the consumer is accuracy, not speed. “If you can’t really guarantee that the news is true or not, then we question ourselves. Is it something the public needs to know urgently? If not, we can hold it back, double check it and put it out the next day,” she said. 

She said, “I think there is value in being consistent … There is the tendency to compete with social media, which is not the area we are in. I think being a little slow is okay if we take the time to check the facts. At the end of the day, people will remember you for being consistent.”

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About the author: Alysha Chandra is editor-in-chief of The Octant, the student newspaper at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

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Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim

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2019-05-14 11:32

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