The fake page ran a false news item claiming that opposition SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka had been barred from contesting tomorrow’s general election. In fact, a High Court ruling yesterday cleared Rabuka to contest the election to the jubilation of a crowd waiting outside the Suva courtroom.
The fake news item said:
“The Social Liberal Democratic Party (SODELPA) leader Sitiveni Rabuka has been disqualified from running for the 2018 Fijian General Elections.
“All votes cast for Rabuka’s number will not be counted now …”
Like it or not, social media has become part and parcel of almost everyday discussions.
Whether it’s talk about the economy or the latest development and trends, large and influential platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn have become the go-to source for news and information.
Add technological advancements and accessibility to the mix, and one is left with a digitally-empowered society and a media industry grappling with a number of challenges such as fake news, citizen journalism and in some cases, harsh legislation.
Legislation that can either be viewed as a way to clamp down on journalists or to some extent, limit one’s constitutional freedom of speech, expression and publication, or it could be legislation driven by genuine concerns to ensure news and information are accurate, fair and balanced.
The advent of social media, its impact on journalism and the transforming political situations that are evidently changing the way the media operates in the Pacific were at the heart of the discussions at last month’s 5th Pacific Media Summit organised by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
The May 7-11 event, attended by more than 100 media practitioners and stakeholders, also highlighted other pertinent issues relating to the theme, “Empowering the Media for Digital Challenges”, such as climate reporting; social media impact on financial literacy, women empowerment and the environment; international humanitarian law; gender and the digital media; the role of the media in fighting corruption; and dealing with threats against the media.
But the biggest concern by far was dealing with the change that social media brought in terms of the traditional dissemination of receiving, consuming, sharing and interpreting news and information.
Overlooking checks The opportunities for social media users to maximise on the platforms to freely exchange information and news, often at times overlooking the checks and balances that journalists practise, have become a concern for some regional governments, who have openly advocated for legislation that curbs the deliberate act of spreading misinformation or hoax messages through traditional forms of print and broadcast news.
Take for instance, Fiji’s highly-controversial Online Safety Act 2018, which recently became law after being passed by Parliament with 27 votes on May 16. It aimed to promote responsible online behaviour and online safety as well as act as a deterrence of harmful electronic communication.
To a large extent, the Act addressed cyberbullying, cyberstalking, internet trolling, and exposure to offensive or harmful content, particularly for children. Public submissions to the Standing Committee on the Online Safety Bill included one from a former media personality, Lenora Qereqeretabua, who felt it was a tactic to scare online users rather than try to develop capacity for responsible online behaviour and online safety.
Another submission to the Bill, from the Media Watch Group in Fiji, emphasised the right to responsible free speech for Fiji citizens, saying this was a fundamental component of a truly democratic society and a must for a developing island nation in this growing digital age.
Recently, the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Maleilegaoi threatened to ban the social media network Facebook in Samoa after what he described were “gutless anonymous bloggers” using the freedom of social media to abuse government officials and innocent members of the public.
Papua New Guinea followed suit last month by considering to block Facebook as a result of alleged defamatory publications, fake news, identity theft and unidentified users breaching the law in terms of posting pornographic materials and fake news.
During the summit in Tonga, PNG Acting Secretary for the Department of Communication and Information, Paul Korni, did not mince his words when he told participants that they would not hesitate to enforce legislation that monitored social media such as Facebook if it meant putting a tight lid on the dissemination of “fake news” and other alleged defamatory publications.
Cyberspace arena World-renowned digital technology activist Dhyta Caturani from Indonesia put things into perspective when she made a strong statement at the summit about the internet and new media platforms that made it possible for people to do and say things that were not possible for them before in this new arena – cyberspace.
In terms of fake news, governments, civil society and even the media are still battling this issue. And one point Caturani raised was uncovering the reasons or intentions behind fake news.
This, Caturani believes, is key if media and stakeholders were to address the issue of fake news, finding the motivations and intentions of fake news and putting the fire out through due diligence and fact-checking information before publishing or broadcasting news.
She said some fake news were churned out by irresponsible internet users while others used fake news to propagate political interests or agendas – a notion shared also by senior journalists in the region when it came to identifying the purpose of fake news.
“Why has this (cyber) space now become heavily monitored, regulated, surveilled, censored and our data being stolen from us without consent or sold, not to mention the online violence?” she asked during her keynote address at the opening of the summit.
“The answer is profit. With millions of people now connected to the internet, with billions of information and data published, the capitalists realised that the internet is the new source of making limitless profits.
“The other answer is fear. Those in power realised that the internet has now become a tool for people to challenge those in power and abusing power to disrupt the status quo and to demand freedom and equality.
Censorship a global trend “We now see censorship as a global trend. Governments all over the world are copying one another to pass draconian laws that will give them the legitimisation to censor any content, any expression, any voice published online. Some governments even shut down the internet entirely.”
Veteran journalists from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga shared similar concerns about the fake news trend in relation to the challenge for the media in a digitally-empowered society – that fake news and social media platforms had given rise to “citizen journalism” and the circulation of unverified information, and analysis of news by the general public on popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and that journalists and media stakeholders needed to adapt to this “new normal” or “seismic change” while maintaining their integrity and ethics.
It’s a new form of journalism that continues to grow.
Journalists Association of Samoa president Rudy Bartley said this was a challenge for journalists and media workers.
“It’s either you adapt or die. There are a lot of fake news circulating and those issues, without social media, would never have happened,” Bartley said.
Long-time PNG journalist Joseph Ealedona said they were very critical of new media and its impact on the future of journalism. While they welcomed the change in the way news and information were disseminated, the concern was maintaining journalistic integrity and ethics.
Vital solution In the midst of these challenges and debates about new media platforms and its impact on journalism in the region, Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala summed up perhaps a vital solution when he shared his concept in dealing with this trend.
“Instead of monitoring these, we need to continue to educate people to tell the truth. It is telling the truth and authenticity that will expose the fake. I have never seen new media, social media as a threat to journalism at all. I see it as an extension of the media when it is used properly,” Moala said.
These media trends and practices continue to play a vital role in terms of getting news out first and in real time. The onus is more or less on journalists and media workers to adapt and embrace these current media practices without compromising their ethics and code of conduct as the fourth estate.
Geraldine Panapasa is editor-in-chief of Wansolwara newspaper with the University of the South Pacific journalism programme. This is a special report for Asia Pacific Report.
“Fake news” combined with a lack of critical media judgment by many in the millennial generation is a major challenge to democracies across the world, says a leading Indian communication academic.
Speaking at the 26th annual conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) conference with the theme “Disturbing Asian millennials: Some creative responses”, Professor Bharthur Sanjay, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, said the vulnerability of some states in the face of the social media crisis had led to a default response of shutting down the internet in “volatile contexts”.
In the case of India and some states, efforts to formally regulate fake news with legislated responses were withdrawn.
Papua New Guinea is an example of an Asia-Pacific country where a government minister has threatened to shut down Facebook for a month to research so-called “fake accounts”.
Professor Sanjay did not mention Papua New Guinea but he said the implications were wide-ranging for Asia-Pacific countries. Papua New Guinea is due to host APEC in November.
The WhatsApp social media platform – widely used throughout Asia – was cited as a leading outlet for disseminating fake news.
“Fake news” is a misleading term because of its wide-ranging intepretations, says Professor Sanjay of the University of Hyderabad, at AMIC2018. Image: David Robie/PMC
“Fake news is a bit of a misleading term, as fake news can mean many things – a mistake, intentional misleading, twisting a news story, or fabricating a complete lie,” Dr Sanjay said.
Fake accounts damage In the opening address at the host Manipal University (MAHE) in Karnataka, South India, Dr Sanjay said that while news media organisations and credible journalists had been found to publish misleading stories and mistakes, the most damage was done by people with fake social media profiles, polarising websites, and social media sites seeking to intentionally spread fake news to win elections or promote hatred.
Formal education contexts featured debates about the public sector, commercialisation and privatisation while a “default faith” was placed on new media that could virtually bring “handheld” education to the millennials.
This was a field that the public and private education sector intended to reach out to through online education and learning tools and options, said Dr Sanjay.
He said the euphoric underpinnings of the digital era in the Asia-Pacific and its subregions of ASEAN countries, South Asia and the Southeast Asia had parallels in the colonial and postcolonial periods with a technocentric dimension.
Dr Sanjay said online Indian language context was expected to reach about 60 percent.
Digital destinations across genres would capitalise on the profile that was non-English.
Information was considered an enabling and empowering input.
The speed with which it travels through multiple platforms has raised concerns about legacy media content through adaptation or user-generated content, Dr Sanjay said.
Higher trust Apart from ethics, the legacy media enjoyed higher trust based on its screening and verification processes.
User-generated content reflected a paradigm shift that in theory allowed higher participation.
The millennials profile was not uniform across countries and the kind of content had come into sharper focus.
A critique of the content was an issue for both academic discourse and legal and regulatory frameworks, Dr Sanjay said.
Extension models of higher education seemed to suggest that they could be tapped to bring skilled youth into the workplace.
Speakers in the opening AMIC2018 plenary on “Millennials – concept of democracy: Freedom of expression for all v. Freedom of expression for themselves”. Image: Pacific Media Centre
AMIC chairman Professor Crispin Maslog of the Philippines said the millennials were the largest such generation in history – “and we ‘centennials need to understand them’.”
“There are some 1.8 billion out of the 7 billion global population – and they love smart phones. Of that 1.8 billion, 600 million are Asian.”
Redefining millennial life Millennials, sometimes known as the “echo boomers”, are generally regarded as the 16 to 34-year-olds – the “digital natives’ who are not just consumers of media, but produce their own media content.
Globalisation, migration and technology are some of the major factors redefining the millennials’ way of life.
Pacific Media Centre’s Professor David Robie speaking in a plenary session at the AMIC2018 conference. Image: AMIC2018
Most of the 200 academics from 15 countries at the conference presented papers on millennials education research and innovative case stories.
Themes explored included “Branding millennials – defining identity”, “A passion for technology – living in a social media world”, “News and current affairs as consumption (or creation) practices”, “evolving gender representation in the new mediascape”, and “Research and data management – today’s cutting edge competencies”.
One of the conference highlights was a “Free/Dem” panel dialogue and presentation about communication for and by young people in practice.
Giving Indian girls from poor communities a technology chance in life … Summi of FAT speaking at AMIC2018. Image: David Robie/PMC
Deepika and Summi, programme associates of India’s Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), gave inspiring addresses in Hindi about how their movement had worked across the continent to give girls in poverty-hit communities the opportunity to work with computers and learn technical skills.
“When I saw people using computers, I wanted to be able to do the same,” said Summi, a 13-year-old from a very poor urban neigbourhood where girls never got an opportunity.
“Now I am able to help other girls to do the same.”
One of the performers in the Yakshagana Kendra cultural show at AMIC2018. Image: David Robie
Creative communication and culture were also major parts of the programme, including an episode of Jataaya Moksha performed by MAHE’s creative arts school Yakshagana Kendra.
Launching a report on “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development“, New Delhi-based national UNESCO programme officer Anirban Sarma, said that while new media had expanded freedoms and communication beyond the media, there had also been “increasing incursions into proivacy and an expansion of mass and arbitrary surveillance”.
“The rise of new forms of political populism as well as what have been seen as authoritarian policies are important developments,” says the report based on a survey of 131 countries.
“Citing a range of reasons, including national security, governments are increasingly monitoring and also requiring the take down of information online, in many cases not only relating to hate speech and content seen to encourage violent extremism, but also what has been seen as legitimate political positioning.”
Asia communication awards
AMIC2018 Asian Communication Award co-winner Charlie Agatep … critical of the “digital acrobats” who swept President Rodrigo Duterte to power. Image: David Robie/PMC
Filipino Charlie Agatep – a public relations guru in Asia – made a passionate video plea for more courageous, rigorous and accurate journalism as an antidote for “fake news”.
He was also critical of the “digital acrobats” who swept Rodrigo Duterte into the presidency in 2016 and who still manipulates and distorts public opinion in the Philippines.
Agatep founded the PR agency Agatep Associates in 1988 and transformed it into Grupo Agatep Inc., the largest marketing and digital (social media) communication agency in the Philippines.
He was one of two AMIC Asia Communication Award in Transformative Leadership recipients for 2018.
The other was Manila-based Father Franz-Josef Eilers, an inspirational Catholic church and social justice communicator of the Society of Divine Word (SVD).
The conference was hosted by MAHE’s School of Communication whose director Professor Padma Rani, thanked ZEE television, UNESCO and the many sponsors and her “fabulous” faculty team for the successful outcome.
Next year’s conference will be hosted by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Pacific Media Centre’s Professor David Robie addressed the opening plenary panel on “Millennials’ concept of democracy: freedom of expression for all v. freedom of expression for themselves” and delivered a paper on the expanding notions of “Pacific way” journalism.
A brief clip from a community journalism promotion video produced for the Manipal University School of Communication and screened at the university’s “experimental theatre”.
Headline: Chris Trotter: Catastrophic loss of trust over Canberra’s Manus provocation
OPINION:By Chris Trotter
You have to go a long way to find anything remotely resembling Australia’s current treatment of New Zealand.
For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.
It’s the sort of thing that the Soviets and the Americans used to do to one another all the time during the Cold War. Except, of course, those two superpowers were ideological and geopolitical rivals of the first order. It takes a real effort to re-cast the relationship between New Zealand and Australia in similar terms. Nevertheless, it’s an effort we are now obliged to make.
So, what is it that Australia has done? Essentially, its national security apparatus (presumably at the instigation of their political leaders) has released, mostly through media surrogates, a number of related stories calculated to inflame the prejudices of a certain type of New Zealander.
Like Australia, New Zealand harbours a frighteningly large number of racists. Politically-speaking, such people are easily aroused and have few qualms about setting-off ugly, racially-charged, debates on talkback radio, in the letters columns of the daily newspapers and across social media. These individuals are trouble enough when all they have to fight with are their own stereotypes and prejudices. Arm them with the carefully assembled disinformation of “fake news” and they instantly become quite dangerous.
Planting stories And yet, this is exactly what the Australian authorities have done. Planting stories in their own press (knowing they will be picked up almost immediately by our own) about at least four boatloads of illegal immigrants that have set out for New Zealand only to be intercepted and turned back by the ever-vigilant officers of the Royal Australian Navy and their Coast Guard comrades.
The purpose of this story (unsourced and lacking in detail, making it, almost certainly, fake news) was to paint New Zealand’s prime minister as an ill-informed and ungrateful diplomatic naïf: an inexperienced young idealist who doesn’t know which way is up when it comes to dealing with real-world problems.
This, alone, was an extraordinary intervention. To gauge how extraordinary, just turn it around. Imagine the reaction in Australia if some unnamed person in New Zealand’s national security apparatus leaked a memo to one of this country’s daily newspapers in which the negative diplomatic and economic consequences of being tainted by association with Australia’s flouting of international law is set forth in clinical detail. If the memo also contained a collection of highly critical assessments of Turnbull’s cabinet colleagues, allegedly passed-on by a number of unnamed western diplomats, then so much the better!
Canberra would not be impressed!
If the Australians had left it at just one intervention, then perhaps New Zealanders could simply have shrugged it off as yet another case of bad behaviour from the land of the under-arm bowlers. But when have the Aussies ever left it at “just one”?
Former guard’s ‘intervention’ The next intervention came in the form of “Ian” – formerly a guard (or so he said) at both the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. For reasons it has yet to adequately explain, RNZ’s Checkpoint programme provided “Ian” with nearly ten, largely uninterrupted, minutes of air-time during which he poured-forth a stream of accusations and characterisations which, to put it mildly, painted the protesters occupying the decommissioned Manus Island facility in the most lurid and disquieting colours. The detainees were criminals, drug-dealers – paedophiles even! Not at all the sort of people New Zealanders would want in their country.
“Ian”, it turns out, is a “witness” well-known to the many Australian NGOs that have taken up the cause of the detainees on Manus and Nauru. They have noted the curious similarities between “Ian’s” supposedly personal observations and experiences, and the inflammatory talking-points constantly reiterated by Australia’s hard-line Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. A cynic might describe the grim “testimony” of “Ian” and Dutton as mutually reinforcing.
No matter. New Zealand’s racist, Islamophobic and militantly anti-immigrant community had been supplied with yet another truckload of Australian-manufactured ammunition.
Enough? Not hardly! Only on Friday morning New Zealanders were fed the shocking “news” that the protesting Manus Island detainees are harbouring within their ranks an unspecified number of men guilty of having debauched and prostituted local girls as young as 10 and 13!
Too much? Over the top? Redolent of the very worst instances of the murderous racial-incitement for which the Deep South of the United States was so rightly infamous? It sure is! Which is why we must hope that the internet does not operate on Manus Island. Because, if the local inhabitants were to read on-line that the detainees were responsible for prostituting their daughters, what might they NOT do?
Disinformation campaign One almost feels that the Australian spooks behind this extraordinary disinformation campaign would actually be delighted if the locals burned down the Manus Island detention centre with the protesting detainees inside it.
“This is what comes of 37-year-old Kiwi prime ministers meddling in matters they know nothing about!” That would be the consistent theme of the right-wing Australian media. It would not take long for the same line to be picked up here: first on social media, and then by more mainstream media outlets.
Right-wing outrage, mixed with a gleeful “we told you so!”, could not, however, be contained within the news media for very long. Inevitably, the more outré inhabitants of the Opposition’s back bench would take possession of the controversy, from there it would cascade down rapidly to Opposition politicians nearer the front.
Before her enemies could say: “It’s all your fault!”, Jacinda would find herself under withering political fire from both sides of the Tasman. Canberra would register her increasingly fragile government’s distress with grim satisfaction.
As the men and women responsible for organising “Operation Stardust” deleted its final folder, and fed the last incriminating document into the paper-shredder, one or two of them might even have voiced a judiciously muted “Mission Accomplished!”
This essay, by Chris Trotter, was originally posted on the Bowalley Road blog of Saturday, 18 November 2017, under the title: “Not quite an act of war: Analysing Australia’s push-back against Jacinda’s Manus Island outreach. It is republished by Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.