Mainstream media must earn public trust with quality journalism, says misinformation expert

File picture of English newspapers in Malaysia. As mainstream media industry is currently struggling in what has been written off as a ‘sunset industry’, news outlets must continue to offer high-quality journalism in their news sources in order to earn public trust. — Malay Mail pic
File picture of English newspapers in Malaysia. As mainstream media industry is currently struggling in what has been written off as a ‘sunset industry’, news outlets must continue to offer high-quality journalism in their news sources in order to earn public trust. — Malay Mail pic

PETALING JAYA, Jan 18 — As mainstream media industry is currently struggling in what has been written off as a ‘sunset industry’, news outlets must continue to offer high-quality journalism in their news sources in order to earn public trust.

According to Australian National University misinformation expert Dr Ross Tapsell, public trust is crucial for the media industry, where if it failed to earn, people would turn to alternative sources of information instead, such as the social media platforms which can be shared widely.

“So, how do we continue to have quality journalism and improve the quality of journalism at a time where the revenues for the mainstream media is being taken out by platforms like Google and Facebook?

“That’s a really difficult challenge but it is something Malaysia certainly needs to work on to make sure that there are credible news outlets that Malaysians can rely upon,” he told reporters after participating in ‘Building Malaysia’s Resistance Against Fake News: Diagnosis and Antidote’ discussion here today.

Citing recent Australia’s deadly wildfires that have burned more than millions of hectares across six states, Tapsell said there had been a lot of support for the country’s public broadcaster, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News to look for the information on the disaster.

“Because when people are relying on important and reliable news, they turn to public broadcaster to see what’s happening in their community. That’s such an important part of a media landscape to have a quality public broadcaster,” he said.

On the challenges to combat fake news, Tapsell said every country around the world is struggling with the issue following the new digital era, where people have more freedom of expression on social media.

Therefore, he said there is a need to have control over the syndicates that produce disinformation by hiring a bunch of people to produce fake news in a formal way.

“That is what needs to be controlled more rather than specifically targeting certain individuals. When countries in other parts of the region have targeted individuals, it becomes problematic because sometimes they don’t know they were spreading fake news, and other times they just do it for political purpose but they don’t really mean to cause offence.

“But if you crack down on syndicates, then that’s important because that’s the growing problem in the region and in the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tapsell also commended the current Malaysian government for eliminating the Anti-Fake News Act, a law criminalising fake news legislation that was passed by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

“I think abolishing the Anti-Fake News law was a good decision of the current government. It was clearly a law where the terms were very vague as to how fake news was defined, which means it could have been politicised.

“We have seen in other countries around the region when there is a vague law around fake news, and it becomes very easily politicised,” he said.

Tapsell was one of the speakers at the event today which was organised by international grassroots journalism organisation Hacks/Hackers Kuala Lumpur with cooperation from opinion research firm Merdeka Centre and supported by Google Malaysia.

The event was to examine the problem of online misinformation, or fake news, in Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region from both the insider and outsider perspectives. — Bernama

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