Fact-checking crucial to rebuilding trust in Thai media, say experts
The daily torrent of conflicting information in traditional and online media has made fact-checking even more vital today – although it is not easy to do it properly.
This was the message delivered by a panel of senior journalists and media experts who gathered on Saturday to debate ways of combating fake news.
The discussion “Reviewing Barometer for Trusted Media” was held to mark the International Fact-Checking Day 2022, at the Sukosol Bangkok Hotel.
Nattha Komolvadhin, the moderator from Thai PBS, kicked off proceedings by citing an international survey showing public trust in the mainstream and also social media was declining.
Stephane Delfour, Bangkok bureau chief for Agence France-Presse, said AFP deploys a fact-checking service that helps to debunk a lot of “impactful misinformation”.
Having AFP reporters in the field also helped the news agency verify facts and avoid fake news while geolocation tools were used to authenticate photos.
However, he compared fact-checking to cleaning up a polluted river using a spoon. “But someone has to do this job. And if not journalists, then who?”
To ensure high-quality content, AFP reporters must adopt the following guideline: Be accurate, be fair and transparent, and think about your audience.
“We know that people read the first paragraph most of the time. They won’t finish the whole article. So, you must give the whole story in the first paragraph,” Delfour said.
Veteran journalist Thepchai Yong, now a senior adviser at Thai PBS, said that the constant challenge of fake news means that every day is a fact-checking day.
He also pointed to declining public trust and unprecedented frustration with the media as a big challenge for media outlets struggling to survive in the era of digital disruption.
Thepchai said the mainstream Thai media was partly to blame for the drop in public trust, given their lack of investigative reporting and focus on sensational news along with rumour, hearsay and speculation.
“A perception among many people is that the media are more concerned with serving the market than serving the public,” he said.
“Many media organisations in Thailand have thrown the principle of objectivity out of the window by supporting political positions, which has contributed to the division that threatens to tear the country apart.”
Thepchai added that both the public and media organisations have a role to play in rebuilding trust in the media.
Gemma B Mandoza, head of digital strategy at Philippines news website Rappler, said that journalists in her country were being harassed and attacked online while trying to check facts in the run-up to the presidential election next month.
There are also attempts to portray fact-checking as unpatriotic, she said.
“It’s not. It’s just ensuring that people get correct information.”
Irene Jay Liu, who leads Google News Lab in the Asia-Pacific region, pointed to Internet users’ increased scepticism towards news and information online.
She suggested traditional media and new media could collaborate on fact-checking.
Premesh Chandran, co-founder and former CEO of Malaysiakini online news portal, said a big challenge to fact-checking is social media, where misinformation outpaces attempts at verification.
He cited the problem of fake news going viral but subsequent corrections often reaching a much smaller audience.
Chandran also pointed to selective reporting of facts by mainstream outlets that take a nationalistic stance, saying this can give a partial and incomplete picture of events.
Assistant Professor Masato Kajimoto, who teaches at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, sounded a note of caution about trust in the media, saying higher trust does not equate with higher quality.
He pointed out that state-controlled media tend to have a political agenda but still gain more trust among audiences than independent media.
“Trust should come as a result of reliable journalism, accurate information and independent reporting,” he said, adding that “pseudo-trust” can be generated on the Internet.
Fact-checking was vital when it came to setting the historical record straight for the future, particularly amid conflicting information on events like the Hong Kong protests in 2019-2020 and the ongoing war in Ukraine, he said.
Kajimoto, who specialises in news literacy and misinformation ecosystems in Asia, suggested that students be taught the skill of critical thinking to cultivate fact-checking. Journalists and media outlets should also learn about fact-checking techniques.
Educational institutions and media organisations could work together on this push, he said.