SCMP Editorial | Police are not arbiters of who is trustworthy

This editorial first appeared on August 11, 2020. Click here to see the original article on the South China Morning Post’s website. 

  • By barring journalists from some media outlets at its press conferences, the force is only hurting its own, already shaky image

Distrust and suspicion that developed between the media and the police during months of often violent civil unrest are, sadly, far from healed. It resurfaced on Monday during the national security raid on the offices of Apple Daily and the arrests of its owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and others. The police operations marked the adoption of a new system under which only journalists from “trusted media outlets” are allowed to report from inside the force’s cordoned off areas. As a result, those barred included foreign wire services and local outlets Stand News and RTHK. The latter was admitted later.

Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung has revealed it is a pilot scheme. He defined journalists from “trusted media” as those who had not acted unprofessionally and obstructed officers, and had reported fairly. This is capable of being perceived as highly subjective in practice, and hardly an assurance of objective reporting. Journalists and the public need to know what is meant by “trusted media”. Ahead of the briefing, the force made it known that only selected representatives from “well-known media outlets” would be allowed to attend. In that sense “trusted” might refer to traditional or accredited media. Given that the new policy could undermine press freedom, there is an immediate need for clarification. So it is good to hear that in light of the feedback the police will review their action.

The number of reporters may have been seen as too large to allow them all into the briefing, and the commissioner might have had a point that not everyone wearing the yellow media vests was a reporter. But the “trusted” test does raise issues for press freedom, which is enshrined in the Basic Law. They are articulated in comments by a number of media groups such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the News Executives’ Association, which said the admission of only selected journalists to briefings had “further damaged the thin trust between the media and law enforcers”.

It seems the police went into this without taking into account the likely perceptions and optics, which are not helpful to the force, the media or the public. “Trusted media” is a problematic concept. Given the concerns raised, the police should revisit this policy and re-engage news organisations in search of a better solution. After all, the media remain society’s eyes and ears in holding power to account.

Emily Anne Epstein: If we follow our values and accept responsibility, we can change laws and we can save lives

This past year our newsroom, and every newsroom, has undergone massive change. Our world is different and therefore, so is our work.

More than one time I’ve woken up (or gone to sleep) with news that has crushed me. Videos of police brutality that have made me sick. Death tolls in my country that I once thought could only be caused by war. And now there are skies that are literally on fire, and I’m the one that has to lead the way through this.

At first, my addresses to the newsroom sounded like Aaron Sorkin monologues. I was bold. I pointed out how we were witnesses to history, that we were “writing the first rough draft.” I talked about what an honour it was to help people understand what was happening, how we could help our readers make sense of the world when so much information can often leave people feeling confused. We had an incredible opportunity to shape our readers’ hearts and thoughts and create space for empathy. We could be that connective tissue between communities, cities, and spheres of thinking.

I still believe these things; there’s no way to last thirteen years in journalism if you don’t. But now my message has shifted; I am much more vulnerable with my newsroom. We have to do this work because we have to do this work. We are journalists. This is not just a paycheck or a career. This is our calling. This is our responsibility. This is our time.

We are the people born into this world with an insatiable sense of curiosity. We always want to know more, and we find both friends and strangers positively fascinating. We don’t get bored. We don’t let things just go. We need to know; it is a compulsion.

What does society do with people like that? Why did we evolve to be this way? We are this way because we are needed.

And if we fulfill this promise, if we follow our values and accept this responsibility, we can change laws. We can save lives. And we can change minds — with a couple of sharp questions and just the right words.

Emily Anne Epstein, Editor-in-chief, Narcity Media.


David Walmsley: What does journalism mean to you? We asked newsrooms to give space to you, our audience, to tell us.

On September 28 we celebrate the third annual World News Day. Across six continents, more than 150 newsrooms are marking the day.

What does journalism mean to you in 2020? We have asked the newsrooms to give some space to you, our audience, to tell us.

Maybe you met a journalist for the first time. And for the first time you were believed.

Perhaps you have never met a journalist but you worry about their safety amid the social unrest in so many parts of the world. Most likely, you don’t think twice about how the news gets out.

When The Canadian Journalism Foundation launched three years ago, it was clear that amid full-scale assaults on the integrity of journalism, there were two important groups of voices who best tell the story of journalism – the journalists, and more importantly, our audiences.

Since the industry’s earliest days, most of us have been satisfied as reporters, photographers and editors to be in the background. We were trained from day one that journalists are not the story. But in recent years, powerful forces have pushed our profession into the headlines.

Routine verbal attacks have grown into targeted physical attacks against journalists going about their daily jobs. Camera operators, reporters and photographers may choose to go into dangerous situations, even riots, to tell their communities what is going on, but it is only in the last years that wearing the PRESS identifier turns the journalist into a target.

World News Day is not intended as an industry celebration. It is instead a day to pause and give the people we have turned into stories a platform to explain how journalism made a difference in their lives.

On the evening of Sept 28, we have a two-hour show presented by CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter. We will revisit some of the most important moments of this incredible year for news.

Among the guests is Mary Cain, at one point an indoor world record holder and the World Junior track champion in the 3000m. She explains how journalism helped her and others to break free from a toxic training environment where her body weight target was unreasonably low.

You will hear from John Sanders, a protester who spoke to the press after he was partially blinded by police while protesting the death of George Floyd.

And 16-year-old Autumn Peltier, whose goal may be simple but remains still out of reach – clean water for all. These are the voices that journalism can amplify, and connect to policy makers as part of wider conversations. Journalism is about improving the world and ensuring we talk about the need for better climate coverage, social justice and information that can save lives.

Dr Anthony Fauci of the Center for Disease Control in the US who talks often about the importance of following facts and scientific evidence will join us too.

And Maria Ressa, the tenacious co-founder and executive editor of the Filipino news site, Rappler, will convey her experience as she faces years of possible imprisonment. Her crime in Manila? Journalism.

Beyond the show, we have newsrooms across Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America and Oceania spending time with their audiences to discuss the importance of journalism, and perhaps above all simply the desire to be able to access accurate information.

Faith in journalism is only earned through focused consistent work done by individuals who live in the community. Wherever you are, they need your support.

And for those communities who now live in a news desert, where there is no longer a local paper covering the council meetings and school boards, I encourage you to consider more deeply what has been lost and what can be done to bring the journalism back to life one community at a time. The best journalists listen. The strongest communities tell their stories, if not for themselves, for their children.

As journalism goes, so goes democracy.

By David Walmsley
Creator, World News Day and past chair, The Canadian Journalism Foundation.
Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada.


Warren Fernandez: Why real news matters amid the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and fake news

Over 150 newsrooms from around the world will come together today to mark World News Day, including journalists from Toronto to Taipei, Spain to Singapore.

This, however, is not an occasion for journalists to pat ourselves on the back for the work we do. Rather, the focus is on how journalists go about reporting on issues that matter to our audiences.

In the face of the Covid-19 outbreak, audiences have been turning to professional journalists like never before.

They want answers on how to stay safe, as well as how to safeguard their jobs. They need to know the facts. They need help separating fact from fiction, amid the pandemic of fake news that has also gone viral. They are looking to people they can trust to help them join the dots, to make sense of these bewildering times.

At a time when so much has been turned on its head, this much has become clear: Real news matters. The truth matters. Objectivity matters. Balance and fairness matter.

In short, quality journalism matters.

These are hallmarks of professional newsrooms. These newsrooms strive to tell the stories that matter to the communities they serve.

Consider these examples. In March, the Brazilian media group 100 Fronteiras told the story of the trauma caused by the sudden closing of the International Friendship Bridge between the towns of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil.

“Many families had to split up. People who live in Foz, but have relatives on the other side of the bridge and now only see themselves through the cell phone screen.

“Never before in the history of the world has a hug been so desired. Yes, people really only value it after they can’t. Now we are feeling it in our skin and it hurts.”

On the other side of the earth, a similar story of separation and loss was playing out. In my hometown, Singapore, the land-bridge popularly called the Causeway that many use to cross into Johor Bahru in Malaysia, also had to be shut down to stem the spread of the virus. Families, workers, businesses and communities, that had been intertwined for decades, were suddenly left bereft of each another. Their stories were told in the pages of The Straits Times.

In the face of a global pandemic, our common humanity also rang out in stories of courage and hope which many newsrooms recounted. In a special report in February, titled ‘On the frontlines of the coronavirus’, we profiled the doctors, nurses and officers in Singapore who were fighting the virus. Likewise, The Canadian Press traced a patient’s harrowing journey from emergency room to Intensive Care Unit and finally to recovery and rehabilitation, highlighting the many people who pitched in to save one man’s life in a feature in April.

Across the planet, newsrooms have been bringing these stories to our audiences, not only to inform and educate, but also to inspire and uplift communities.

In the process, Covid-19 has reminded us of many things we had taken for granted.  It has made plain the importance of good governance, the value of trust in leaders and institutions, and the solace and strength that families and communities provide. It has also highlighted the critical role that a credible and reliable media plays in the health and well-being of our societies.

Ironically, however, the pandemic has also posed an existential threat to many newsrooms. While audiences have surged, revenues and resources have plunged, making it harder for journalists to keep doing their jobs.

World News Day is an opportunity for us to ponder why this matters.

Real News matters if we are to make sense of the bewildering developments around us. Credible journalism is critical if we are to have informed debates about where we might be headed in a post-pandemic world.  Newsrooms that are engaged with their readers can help rally communities in a time of wrenching change.

Indeed, as the French author Albert Camus mused in his novel, The Plague, which tells the story of how the inhabitants of a town came to terms with a deadly outbreak: “The strongest desire was, and would be, to behave as if nothing had changed…but, one can’t forget everything, however great one’s wish to do so; the plague was bound to leave traces, anyhow, in people’s hearts.”

Wittingly or otherwise, the “traces in people’s hearts” that are left post Covid-19 will have to be dealt with, when the pandemic now still raging around the world, eventually, passes.

Societies that remain well served by good news organisations will be better placed to do so.

Professional journalists and newsrooms will be vital in helping communities survey the ravaged landscape around them. They will also be critical for the honest conversations that will be needed to figure out the way forward.

That, put simply, is why the success and sustainability of the media matters – now more so than ever– to us all.

Warren Fernandez is the Editor-in-Chief of The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading English language news organization.

Why the news matters to you and me

Day by day, our fast-changing world grows more complex, confusing and challenging.

The United States is at odds with China. The planet is getting warmer faster. Technology is disrupting just about every industry, from banks and money changers, to airlines, travel agents and the media.

Little wonder then that we all need some help keeping up to speed with these changes, making sense of them all, and trying to figure out where things are heading.

Pressed for time in dealing with information overload, people are also finding it harder to sift out what is real from fake, with more and more dubious content swirling around, spread rapidly over new communications technologies.

So, ironically, while the world is more connected today and more people have much more information readily available at their fingertips, societies are not necessarily better informed or equipped to make the tough choices needed if we are to address the many challenges we face.

Instead, the credibility of and trust in major institutions seem to be insidiously chipped away amid the welter of information and disinformation, facts and alternative facts, thereby undermining our ability to have sensible democratic discussions on the way forward.

This is where journalists and professional newsrooms come in.

Our job is to seek out information, cross-check and verify it, understand the history, background and context, strive to be balanced and objective, analyse and interpret developments, and seek to put out as fair and unvarnished an account of events as we can, to help our audiences make up their minds on what it all means for them.

This matters. Because in the absence of credible and reliable information, we cannot have rational and reasonable debates. Instead, discussions turn into shouting matches, which tend to be dominated, and won, by those with the loudest, most nasty or persistent – or often, the best financed – voices.

Every one of us ends up the loser – it is your views, your society, your future that is degraded in the process.

So, yes, it matters. This is why the theme for this year’s World News Day is simply: Real News Matters.

The video to promote it intones: It matters. Facts Matter. Accuracy matters. Objectivity matters. Balance matters. Accountability matters. Equality matters. History matters. News matters.

It is commonplace today to say, rather glibly, that news is available for free, every one is a journalist, and there is no future for journalism.

That, to me, is an example of fake news.

News you receive is never free. Content costs money to produce, especially quality, credible, in-depth, reliable content. If you are getting it for free, it usually means someone is paying for it, and getting it to you for a reason.

Perhaps it is to sell you some marketing message or propaganda. It could be to influence your views or spending preferences. It could be to sway your vote, or shape your society. In other words, you, and the data about you, is the product being traded and sold.

So, indeed, it does matter.

This is why we are marking World News Day (WND) today.

Some 38 newsrooms from around the world have come together to celebrate the work of professional journalists and the difference it can make.

In this special report – and our website at – you will find a host of compelling stories of how journalists and newsrooms have worked to help improve public policy, expose corruption, fight sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, address major issues of the day, and also inspire and uplift communities.

This global collaboration is led by the World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra).

We are building on the efforts of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, which launched a WND project in Canada last year.

We hope to keep growing this effort to make WND an annual celebration around the world, to showcase how journalists and newsrooms contribute to the societies they are meant to serve.

The writer is also president of the World Editors Forum, a global network of editors, which is part of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra).

How newsrooms made an impact in society

Thirty-eight newsrooms. Forty-seven stories. Making an impact that has been felt far and wide.

Editors and journalists in newsrooms around the world have come together to showcase some of the work they do and the effort that goes into producing stories that make a difference to the lives of people in their communities.

This is to mark World News Day today, which celebrates journalism and the importance of credible news that matters.

Through this, the aim is to inspire and motivate other news organisations to continue their efforts, despite the tumult experienced by media titles in an era of social media.

Newsrooms have pulled out their most impactful works to share with readers around the world.

These stories have shaped policies, exposed corruption and fought injustice, with reports from the ground tackling issues of significance to the communities.

Through this, the aim is to inspire and motivate other news organisations to continue their efforts, despite the tumult experienced by media titles in an era of social media.

Newsrooms have pulled out their most impactful works to share with readers around the world.

These stories have shaped policies, exposed corruption and fought injustice, with reports from the ground tackling issues of significance to the communities.

Bangladesh’s The Daily Star highlighted its stories on frequent accidents from fire in its capital’s densely populated commercial zones, which are lined with decrepit buildings, built long before fire prevention norms became the rule.

Lives have been lost and business disrupted. The stories forced the government into action.

German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung shared its explosive expose with German news magazine Der Spiegel earlier this year that led to the fall of the ruling government.

Austria goes to the polls tomorrow. The report recounts a sting operation in July 2017, three months before Austrian elections that year, which was videotaped.

It showed the leader of Austria’s far right Freedom Party, and the deputy mayor of Vienna at the time, meeting a woman in Spain who claimed to be the niece of a Russian multimillionaire and offered him campaign support in return for public contracts.

The politician, Mr Heinz-Christian Strache, later rose to become the country’s vice-chancellor. But the video’s release earlier this year, and the reports, led to his downfall.

“The newspaper paid no money for the material,” a representative from Suddeutsche said in its submission for World News Day. “And neither did Der Spiegel, according to the magazine.”

Brazil’s Zero Hora has an investigative report on how retirees in their country were being charged for insurance that they did not sign up for. It took the paper’s team close to two months to expose the scam.

And Fiji Sun, a daily newspaper in the South Pacific nation, submitted a story on how an online message posted by a Fijian living in Australia warning of unrest on Sept 23 generated

Many Fijians have not forgotten the political turmoil that divided the nation in the past.

But checks, and a message from The Republic of Fiji Military Forces Land Force Commander, Colonel Manoa Gadai, on Sept 18, effectively quashed the speculation.

Singapore’s The Straits Times submitted three stories written in the past 18 months that influenced public policy. These were senior health correspondent Salma Khalik’s article on how a dogged 84-year-old shook up the country’s health system, senior correspondent Joyce Lim’s report on public health institutions paying foreign agents to refer patients and senior writer Wong Kim Hoh’s inspiring profile of a former flight attendant who became paralysed after an accident but who now helps others find their feet. The paper also shares its continuing effort to fight fake news.

These and several other contributions made by contributing newsrooms can be read on the World News Day site,, from today.

The idea to mark a day to celebrate journalism in this part of the world took shape at an inaugural meeting of the World Editors Forum, Asia chapter, in May, when editors from 15 newsrooms met in Singapore on the sidelines of the Wan-Ifra Publish Asia 2019 conference.

Taking up the idea, Bangladesh Daily Star’s editor and publisher Mahfuz Anam said that with the challenges posed by social media, newsrooms should showcase what they do and the impact they make, operating with the professional standards and ethics honed over decades.

Indonesian Antara’s Meidyatama Suryodiningrat also noted that media literacy is more vital than ever, and the next generation needs to be educated about journalism.

The group picked Sept 28 as the day to mark WND, as Sept 28 coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for Universal Access to Information.

Good journalism no longer appeals to readers?

Having been in journalism for so long, a question that I have always been asked is: what is news, and what makes “good journalism”?

For a long time, I thought that the question was rather interesting.

Good journalism should be what is most ideal for journalism.

The entire journalistic system and production chain – from the tips received, to reporting, editing and publishing – have all been operating impartially within the most ethical and professional journalistic framework.

Additionally, good journalism should be about inspiring the readers.

This is done by exposing and rectifying acts of corruption, overseeing government operations, and voicing out injustices within our society.

To become a watchdog the villains will dread. This is the most ideal scenario in journalism.

Although I don’t think I have penned any good stories throughout my journalistic career, I consistently instil these philosophies in my students, so that these journalists-to-be will have a very clear idea of their future obligations.

Of course, it is beyond my control whether they will eventually put this into practice one day, because to be honest, I do not think today’s media industry and audience are capable of digesting such a profound ideal.

Take Malaysia for instance. The readers here are very much more attracted to sensational news characterised by violent or explicit content.

As the audience is more inclined to such news and reporting, local mass media increasingly carry stories violence and conflict.

As a former journalist and now a media education worker, it has never crossed my mind that orthodox journalism should be led by the nose or by audience preferences.

Content presentation and headlining are becoming more sensational too, in a bid to capture the attention of a new generation of readers.

By academic standards, such content is the exact opposite of what makes good journalism, . It is also what we could label as “bad journalism”.

This phenomenon of sensationalised news gained traction following the rise of social media, especially since any individual can build his or her own media brand.

The entire information market has inevitably plunged into a whirlpool of vicious competition, making it harder for regulators to control the quality of news.

As a result, large numbers of content farms, plagiarists and fake news factories come into being.

In other words, today’s information market is not only inundated with bad journalism, but also plagued with “fake news” and “headline news”.

Such articles are fact- distorting, plagiarised, excessively sensational, exaggerated and inappropriately headlined.

Sadly, these are the stories that command the most attention on the social media. And most importantly, such audience engagement appeals tremendous to online advertisers.

Media organisations in Malaysia are confronting unprecedented challenges arising from such a trend.

Against such a backdrop, orthodox good journalism has become increasingly unattractive to the audience under the powerful siege of bad journalism.

Sure enough, some may argue that the current political climate has somewhat contributed to the unpopularity of good journalism, too.

For instance, Singapore has enforced a quasi-authoritarian approach to information management.

Content that is perceived to be seditious, overly sensational and exaggerated will come under the watchful eyes of the republic’s communications and information ministry, which is known for having the region’s strictest control over the spread of misinformation.

Although the public may consequently relinquish their freedom of criticising the government, a stable administration will ensure expanded space for (extra-political) good journalism.

As for Malaysia which has seen a change of federal administration for two years, there are already signs pointing to a more liberal expression freedom.

Unfortunately, the political turmoil has further complicated the information market, and the authorities remain unprepared for media challenges.

The highly intricate information market and intense confrontation has created a favourable environment for the propagation of fake news and bad journalism in an attempt to crush a political rival or divert public attention from some highly controversial issues, and these make excellent topics for gossips.

With the proliferation of bad journalism , room for survival of good journalism is destined to constrict further.

As such, I always tell my students that good journalism has become a rare commodity because the local media industry appears to be slowly giving up on the production of high quality news that constitutes good journalism

It is instead going after production speed and attuning itself to the audience’s preferences.

Such a “rushy” content production model has deprived a journalist of the time to contemplate the depth of journalism.

What is more worrisome is that this phenomenon seems to have developed into a global trend, as I have heard from fellow journalists from regional countries like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as Taiwan, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

As the audience is more inclined to such news and reporting, local mass media increasingly carry stories violence and conflict.

They too are also encountering the same problem of bad journalism and fake news dominating the information market.

In other words, safeguarding the integrity of good journalism is posing a major challenge to the global media industry. And the elements that make up such a challenge are highly convoluted: a shift in audience preferences, media organisations’ pursuit of advertisements, unrestricted information dissemination channels, availability of information devices, and resurgence of media manipulation, among others.

Tackling one specific factor alone will not alter the status quo.

In view of this, I urge media workers in this region to constantly keep in mind what used to draw them to this profession.

Some of you might have joined this industry after pursuing a course in journalism, and I would like you to look back at all the expectations “good journalism” once promised you.

As a former journalist and now a media education worker, it has never crossed my mind that orthodox journalism should be led by the nose or by audience preferences.

The media industry has an irrefutable obligation of inspiring the public and enhancing their awareness.

We must stand united and take the initiative to tell these people what “good journalism” is, and help them nurture the ability to filter out unauthenticated news and bad journalism.

I always believe it is not that good journalism does not appeal to readers, but rather to their supervisors.

The article by Liew Wui Chern will be published on Sin Chew Daily on Sep 28. Liew Wui Chern teaches Journalism in University Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia.

Securing the future of quality journalism

The poster boy for robust health in the media industry used to have decidedly Indian features.

Even as their counterparts elsewhere languished, Indian media houses were once busy launching new titles, snapping up journalists and boosting orders for newsprint, bucking global trends several years ago.

Today, sadly, a pall appears to have settled over many of these newsrooms.

“We need to change… we are playing catch-up now,” one top Indian editor told me at a dinner on the sidelines of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ (Wan-Ifra) India Conference last Wednesday.

Lacklustre advertising during recent festive seasons has taken a toll on print advertising revenues, as circulations slide, he says.

Like many others, he laments how copies of most papers are sold for a few rupees at news-stands, with prices held down by the industry’s market leaders’ strategy to maintain their dominance.

Worse, hardly anyone charges for content online, while digital advertising is small and mostly soaked up by the technology giants, so there is scarcely any revenue coming in from online operations despite growing audiences.

The result: Newsrooms feeling starved of editorial resources and facing mounting commercial pressures from advertisers, sponsors as well as governments not averse to withholding advertising to focus editorial minds. Media credibility ends up being hit, even amid a growing proliferation of fake news all round.

“Sooner or later, we are going to have to find a new revenue model,” added another editor, pointing to tentative talk of experimenting with paywalls at some publications, just as media organisations around the world have been doing in recent years.

These Indian anxieties are symptomatic of a global phenomenon, with the impact of disruption in the media industry coming lately to this country.

Elsewhere, media leaders at similar events have long lamented the triple challenges facing the industry: growing threats to media freedom, the existential question of media viability and the pressing need for innovation in newsrooms.

All three issues are now inextricably linked, equal sides of a trilemma that have to be tackled together.

Without a viable plan to sustain their newsrooms into the future, fervent debates on media freedoms will be academic discussions. And clearly, any plan to ensure the survival and continued growth of the media entails a need for innovation and transformation, both on the editorial and business fronts.

These challenges were summed up starkly by Mr Juan Senor, president of Innovation Media Consulting, at a Wan-Ifra conference held in Singapore in May.

He pointed to the phenomenon of newsrooms repenting for the folly of their “original sin” of giving away costly-to-produce content for free, in the vain hope that doing so would draw audiences – and advertisers would follow. New digital revenues might then make up for the decline in print readerships and revenues.

It did not happen – or rather, did not happen fast and far enough. While some news groups – including this newspaper – have seen significant growth in both digital readership and revenues, these increases have come off a low base and so are not quite enough to make up for the print shortfall.

Besides, the bulk of digital advertising has been hoovered up by the likes of Facebook and Google, riding on the backs on media groups which produce the content they amalgamate to draw audiences, while insisting they bear no responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Today, just about every media group is dabbling with paywalls and digital subscriptions, moving from “advertising revenue to reader revenue”, notes Mr Senor.

“If you are not producing content you can charge for, you should get out of this business,” he declares, adding “if you have no digital business, you have no future” and “money is made where content is viewed”.

Despite the stark warnings, he insists he is optimistic about the future of journalism. Fake news, he contends, “will save journalism”. Declines in trust amid the welter of fake content will drive audiences to seek out credible voices for reliable content and they will pay for quality content they can count on.

“Newsrooms will have to move from the idea of being print or digital first, to journalism first,” he concludes, arguing that paying audiences will gravitate to those news organisations that are able to offer engaging, quality and insightful content, as well as
value-added services, from events, business intelligence or investment tips, memberships, customised newsletters, books and even customer references and retail services.

A study on media viability published in May by the DW Akademie, a German media-related think-tank, draws a similar conclusion: “Media outlets are confronted with a sobering truth: They can no longer sustain themselves on advertising revenue alone.”

Instead, they will have to have a range of revenues, spread across a variety of sources, to prevent over-reliance on any particular source of funds.

“The financial constraints are affecting the overall quality of journalism and the independence of journalists,” the report says.

“In short, independent, high- quality journalism depends on a viable media sector. It requires a variety of sources – from money and infrastructure, to community support and strategic alliances.

“Those who wish to impose restrictions on free media and manipulate the public debate often prey on imbalances or weaknesses in the media system. They often use economic means to set their agendas or limit access to information. Therefore, viable media are crucial players in the protection of freedom of expression as a whole.”

Perhaps the most comprehensive study done to date on how best to secure the future of quality journalism was that undertaken recently by an independent commission in the United Kingdom, led by the former journalist-turned-academic, Dame Frances Cairncross. It published a 160-page report titled The Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future For Journalism in February.

In a recent interview over the phone, she told me that her commission began by asking themselves some fundamental questions: Why should anyone care if media organisations survive? What would happen if they did not? Why should public funds be used to support them?

They figured that there was no compelling reason taxpayers’ money should be used to fund gossip and lifestyle columns, concert reviews or sports reports. “If people want these, they will have to pay for them,” she says.

But, she is quick to add: “It is very important that a healthy democracy has ways in which individuals can follow what their elected representatives are doing on their behalf. And have trained intermediaries, which we call journalists, who can question those representatives and the institutions that they stand for, so that we have questions being aired and their replies made available for people to read.”

She sums this up as “public interest journalism”, namely, the reporting on the “machinery of government and how well it is working”, from the courts and legislature, to local and state councils, to school and statutory boards.

The public submissions and research her commission compiled make clear that “a dearth of public interest news and information, especially reporting of public authorities, can have dire democratic consequences”.

There was a “clear link between the disappearance of local journalists and a local newspaper, and a decline in civic and democratic activities, such as voter turnout and well-managed public finances”.

Indeed, the presence of a printed newspaper widely available to the community, backed by a professional newsroom, often helps to focus minds on the need to be open and above board in public affairs, she notes, calling for further studies into this.

Without societal support, public interest news risks being crowded out by reports that draw wider audiences for their ability to shock and awe. Fake news also tends to spread faster and further for similar reasons, studies show.

How best to support public interest journalism? The commission made nine proposals in its report, submitted to the British government then led by Prime Minister Theresa May. Whether the new government under PM Boris Johnson, a former journalist himself, will pursue them remains to be seen, she says.

Yet, the ideas are of wider interest, since they might apply to other countries as well. The commission proposed: Rebalancing the relationship between publishers and online platforms, with codes of conduct drawn up and overseen by media regulators to govern the commercial relationships between media publishers and technology platforms.

Investigating the online advertising market to study if it is working competitively and, if not, what should be done about it.

Setting up a news quality obligation that would require and regulate online platforms’ commitment to delivering quality news.

Boosting media literacy, with government agencies working with media players to help audiences navigate the increasingly complex information landscape, especially amid the proliferation of fake news.

Helping local publishers which are most vulnerable, for example, through the state-funded BBC sharing some of its local content as well as technical expertise.

Setting up an innovation fund with government support to boost innovation within media organisations.

Offering new forms of tax relief to media organisations, such as by extending zero-rating for value-added taxes to digital newspapers and magazines, or tax reliefs similar to those given to charities or film and other creative industries.

Funding public interest news with grants and sponsorship for local reporting and quality journalism projects.

Setting up an independent Institute for Public Interest News with a mission and mandate to ensure the sustainability of public interest news, including the implementation of the above proposals.

The report concluded: “Ultimately, the biggest challenge facing the sustainability of high-quality journalism, and the press, may be the same as that facing the sustainability of many areas of life: The digital revolution means that people have more claims on their attention than ever before.

“Moreover, the stories that they want to read may not always be the ones that they ought to read in order to ensure that a democracy can hold its public servants to account.

“This review has therefore dwelt on what it considers to be the most significant functions of journalism – ensuring public accountability and investigating possible
wrongdoing. And whereas new business models may continue to support good journalism in many forms, they may not always support public interest news… so, this review proposes that most energy be given to the provision of public interest news.

“This will require new sources of funding, removed from government control. It will need institutional and financial structures that combine a guarantee of independence with adequate support.

“That will be a difficult combination to secure, but the future of a healthy democracy depends on it.”

The writer is also president of the World Editors Forum.

World News Day to celebrate journalism

Thirty newsrooms from around the world will join forces to mark World News Day (WND) on Sept 28 to showcase the contributions made by professional newsrooms to the communities they serve.

They will tell the stories behind the reports and features that made an impact in the past year, giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look at how these were put together.

These range from reports which exposed corruption and scams, to issues being neglected by society or systems not working to deliver services as well as
insights on people and events shaping the course of current affairs.

“Getting the news is never easy. It involves much legwork on the ground, doing many interviews with newsmakers and experts, fact-checking, ensuring you have the right sources and enough of them, delving deep to understand the issues so you can put things in proper context,” said Mr Warren Fernandez, President, World Editors Forum, and Editor-in-Chief, The Straits Times and Singapore Press Holdings’ English, Malay and Tamil Media (EMTM) Group.

“That’s what journalists in professional newsrooms do. And they do it against a deadline and across media platforms throughout the day.

It is time-consuming, laborious work, and takes considerable resources to do well.

“The aim of World News Day is to celebrate the work of professional journalists and newsrooms, and the critical role they play in our societies,” he said.

“By stepping up to make the case for good journalism, we hope to garner public support for and trust in the media, as well as inspire our newsroom to rise to the challenge of delivering the news and serving their audiences,” he noted.

“In a world which is growing more complex and more polarised, and with the proliferation of so much fake news, the role of professional newsrooms in helping to establish the facts and provide the platform for sober and sensible debates is increasingly critical to the proper functioning of our societies,” he added.

The Straits Times (ST) is among the 30 newsrooms taking part in the campaign. Some of the early participants include The Star and Bernama (Malaysia), The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Bulletin (the Philippines), The Bangkok Post (Thailand) and Viet Nam News (Vietnam), from South-east Asia.

Others include JoongAng Ilbo and The Chosun Ilbo (South Korea), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), The Hindu, Hindu Business Line and The Quint (India), United Daily News (Taiwan), Tiso Blackstar (South Africa), OEM (Mexico) and the Welad El Balad Media (Egypt), who have confirmed their participation.

WND is being organised by the World Editors Forum (WEF), the network for editors within the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra). The latter counts 3,000 news-publishing companies and technology entrepreneurs as its members and its reach extends to more than 120 countries.

The WND initiative is supported by Google News Initiative, a project of the global Google platform, to promote quality journalism.

The inaugural WND was hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) on May 3 last year, and celebrated on May 2 by CJF this year.

The WEF’s Asia chapter is spearheading efforts to include several newsrooms from Asia in the global campaign and it is being held on Sept 28 this year to coincide with Unesco’s International Day for Universal Access to Information. News organisations
taking part in this project have agreed to run the stories from across the 30 newsrooms joining in this initiative, on their platforms and pages on Sept 28. These will also appear on the WND site here: that has gone live today (Sept 1).

A string of activities has also been lined up for the celebrations on Sept 28.

The National Youth Achievement Award in Singapore is organising a photo contest for young people under the theme My News.My Story, to raise awareness about the importance of real news. Youth wishing to join in need to send photos of themselves consuming news in any way they prefer. For details, please visit the WND web site. Winners will be announced on Sept 28.

On the same day, WEF will hold a WND: Why It Matters forum on the importance of quality journalism, in Singapore. Journalists will share their stories, editors & experts will hold a panel discussion on good journalism and there will be a session on fake news.

For digital viewers, there will be a Live WND show on Youtube to be broadcast from ST studios. It will feature videos and content from participating newsrooms and discussion on the work of journalists.

Said Ms Esther Ng, Chief Content Officer, Star Media Group: “In the era of fake news where all sorts of stories get passed around via the social media within minutes, real news has not just become more important, it is a necessity.

“Our tasks as journalists have expanded – we are now not merely reporters but news analysts, and we strive to affect change and shape the nation.

Said Ms Tammy Tam, editor-in-chief of South China Morning Post: “Independent journalism matters more to the world than ever before. With the rise in fake news and misinformation tactics, World News Day is an important reminder that when we educate readers through news, we help them develop informed perspectives and decisions about current affairs.”

“This is the day we stand up for good journalism. This is the day we celebrate what we aim to do,” she said.

Added Natalie Turvey, president and executive director of the CJF, on the rationale for WND: “It is more important than ever to highlight journalism’s contribution to our society and democracy. “With the media facing so many existential challenges, WND serves as a reminder that as goes journalism, so goes democracy.”

The writer is Asia News Network Editor, The Straits Times, Singapore.

Helping readers sift the real from the fake

A video that went viral caught the dramatic moment when a ceiling in a busy shopping mall came crashing down. Screams rang out as shoppers scurried to safety.

But no, this scene did not play out at Singapore’s newly opened Jewel Changi Airport mall, as alleged in a post that went round last week.

Rather, the incident took place recently at Shanghai’s Vanke Mall, as reporters from this newspaper found out. We were alerted to the video by an anxious reader who turned to us to find out if the video posting was true or make-believe.

Such online falsehoods are a public menace of our times. A growing number of people say they are concerned about them and find it increasingly difficult to tell real news from fake. What is worse, studies show that fake news gives rise to more shock and awe, and so spreads more rapidly than factual news reports.

Lamentably, things look set to get worse, with the emergence of new technologies, such as deepfake. This allows video images to be manipulated such that words can literally be put into the mouths of prominent personalities. And with the technology getting more sophisticated and less costly to produce by the day, seeing might soon no longer be enough for believing.

So, this is where professional newsrooms will have to increasingly play a role – in helping the public separate fiction from fact.

Of course, newsrooms can’t fight fake news on their own, and this task will have to be one shared by many. Yet, that is no reason for each of us not to pitch in and do what we can.

At the very least, our aim should be to raise public awareness of these efforts to mislead, and encourage audiences to pause and question what they read before sending it along.

Yet, such overtly fake news, spread out of malice or mischief, is just one form of online falsehoods. Another version of this was on full view last week in the tweets from none other than the President of the United States, Mr Donald Trump.

Well aware of the power of his online outpourings, he ordered American firms to relocate from China and bring their factories home, sending shock waves through global financial markets.

Perhaps alarmed by the reaction, Mr Trump dialled back the next day, saying he had “second thoughts” and disclosing the “very good calls” he received from unnamed leaders in Beijing, who had apparently reached out to try to put the stalled talks on the Sino-US trade-technology-currency spat back on track.

Sceptical reporters delving deeper into this, however, soon discovered that Chinese officials were unaware of any such conversations, raising doubts about whether they had indeed taken place.

Well, thank goodness for dogged reporters, for without them, newsmakers everywhere would feel free to manipulate and mislead with impunity.

Reporters digging deep, to uncover the facts, convenient or otherwise, are a pre-requisite for meaningful discussions. For public discourse can only be conducted if those on opposing sides might agree on some of the basic facts they are discussing.

Reasonable debate grinds to a halt if those involved insist not only on their right to hold a different opinion but also having their own “alternative facts”. Policy discussions are then reduced to shouting matches, catchy soundbites, empty slogans or bold lettered tweets.

The consequences of this are increasingly clear: growing mistrust, polarised societies, ill-informed electorates and divided parliaments, as is now playing out in the land of William Shakespeare, that painful-to-watch, long-running, tragicomedy called Brexit.
Indeed, research cited in the Caincross Review, an independent commission set up by the British government to study how to secure a sustainable future for quality journalism, pointed to the “dire democratic consequences” that might arise from a lack of reporting on public authorities.

It went on to note further that there was a “clear link between the disappearance of local journalists and a local newspaper, and a decline in civic and democratic activities, such as voter turnout, and well-managed public finances”.

Here, again, professional newsrooms have a role and a mission. For it is their job to seek out information and try to establish the facts, so as to enable, and facilitate, the public debate that might follow.

Information, however, does not always flow freely. It has to be sought out, verified, cross-checked against many sources, interpreted fairly and objectively, and put in proper context.

This is what professional journalists in established newsrooms do. It is laborious work, time-consuming, and requiring considerable resources to do well.

Ensuring that this public good is delivered is in society’s interest, as the Caincross Review concluded, adding that this was not something that can just be left to the narrow commercial considerations of media moguls or business conglomerates.

Securing the future of public-interest journalism is especially important amid the growing cry from citizens for help in sifting out the real from the fake in today’s super-abundance of information.

Taking up this issue in a thoughtful essay, titled Back To The Future Of News, Professor Charlie Beckett, director of the London School of Economics’ journalism institute, Polis, argued that fake news is both a bane, and a boon, for credible journalism.

He said: “The fake news crisis is good news for credible journalists. The more reliable and accountable news brands have seen a sharp rise in people consuming their content and even paying for subscriptions. When there is an abundance of questionable material out there, people often turn to more trustworthy sources.

“Journalists have a moral opportunity here. It is also a business opportunity. One option is for journalists to produce clickbait, to pander to the worst impulses of those people attracted by fake news. But there is also an option for journalists to be better curators, filters, or guides in the dark forest of overabundance. Journalists can be much better at identifying what is credible, verifying what is believable and helping citizens get the evidence they need.

“Journalists must still do quite traditional things: be critical, bust myths, give context, be accurate. Their job is also to say challenging things and take on those in power or positions of authority. However, they should also have a sense that they are contributing to ‘the good life’ and to a ‘good’ society.

This is not some woolly idea. It is a practical service that says that journalism can help people to live healthier, happier, more enabled lives as individuals and in communities. Good information is good for us, and journalism can help provide this.

“This is about journalists empowering the public, not themselves.”

But just how are societies to ensure that this public-interest journalism continues to be available, given the major disruptions taking place in the media industry, with audiences drifting online, and the bulk of digital advertising being mopped up by the big tech players?

Well, the ever-insightful Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari has some interesting answers in his latest bestseller, 21 Lessons For The 21st Century. His advice to those grappling with the challenge of making sense of an increasingly complex and confusing world is simple: Start by seeking out the best reports and information, make the effort to read them, and be prepared to pay for them.

“If you want reliable information – pay good money for it,” he says.

“If you get your news for free, you might well be the product,” he adds, pointing to how technology companies mine data on how audiences spend their time online, and use this information to rake in huge profits by serving up targeted advertising.

He adds: “Supposing a shady billionaire offered you the following deal: ‘I will pay you $30 a month, and in exchange you will allow me to brainwash you for an hour every day, installing in your mind whichever political and commercial biases I want.’ Would you take the deal? Few sane people would.

So the shady billionaire offers a slightly different deal: ‘You will allow me to brainwash you for one hour every day, and in exchange, I will not charge you anything for this service.’ Now the deal suddenly sounds tempting to hundreds of millions of people. Don’t follow their example.”

Indeed, please don’t.

Instead, you would do better to support the 30 newsrooms from around the world which are coming together later this month to mark World News Day (WND). To be held on Sept 28, the day is meant to celebrate the work of newsrooms and the contributions they make to the communities they serve.

Together, these newsrooms plan to showcase their efforts to expose corruption, uncover human and drug smuggling, check sexual harassment and exploitation, question and improve public policies, or celebrate the work of various groups which are striving to uplift and inspire others in the community. These reports will run on the platforms and pages of all participating media organisations on the day, as well as on the WND website at

Organised by the World Editors Forum, a professional network within the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra), the theme for World News Day is clear and simple: Real News Matters.

It does matter, not just to journalists and newsrooms, but more importantly to you, because the best news reporting is always about developments and why they matter to the reader – to you, your family, your society and your world. Do join us in marking World News Day on Sept 28.