Credible media sources one way to fight infodemic, say Asian journalists

The journalists noted that news on Covid-19 must reach the audience on platforms familiar to them such as WhatsApp.
The journalists noted that news on Covid-19 must reach the audience on platforms familiar to them such as WhatsApp.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Explanatory journalism and access to reliable information will have key roles in dealing with the pandemic, Asian journalists said at a webinar to mark World News Day yesterday.

Misinformation is causing much alarm and making it difficult for countries to tackle the spread of coronavirus infections, they noted.

The journalists were participating in a webinar, titled Covid-19: How Can You Contribute?, telecast over Zoom and YouTube. More than 500 people had signed up for the webinar.

Facilitated by The Straits Times' Asian Insider editor Shefali Rekhi, the panel took up the issue of the plague of misinformation in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, and weighed in on efforts of journalists to counter the infodemic.

With lack of accurate data from the Indonesian government, many Indonesians are turning to movements that have appeared in the grassroots and so-called "experts" to plug the information gap, said Mr Tama Salim, world news editor at The Jakarta Post.

"Misinformation creeps into the vacant spaces that are lacking attention by the government... This kind of information has resulted in even influencers and their tens of thousands of followers falling victim," he said.

Fellow panellist Zakir Hussain, ST's Singapore editor and vice-president of the Singapore Press Club, discussed the alarm in Singapore after falsehoods spread on social media channels.

"I think one area where fake news and misinformation spread quite rapidly was among migrant worker communities themselves because they didn't understand, or didn't have access to information in their own languages initially," he said.

In the Philippines, Ms Pam Rances, digital content manager at the Manila Bulletin, said several Filipino newsrooms had published explainers to give readers a better understanding of the virus.

 
 
 
 

But Mr Salim said journalists cannot know everything there is to know about Covid-19 in Indonesia.

In response to a question from the audience on how to coax readers to listen to information that is inconvenient to them, both Ms Rances and Mr Hussain agreed that news on Covid-19 must reach the audience on platforms familiar to them such as WhatsApp.

Wrapping up the session, Ms Rekhi said tapping credible media sources is one way to fight the infodemic. She said that legacy and traditional media are sources of credible information, while Mr Salim added that students should approach a mix of news outlets to fact-check any information.

World News Day was created in 2018 and spotlights the relevance of good journalism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'Credible media sources one way to fight infodemic, say Asian journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe