Facing feared news and fake news

Misinformation is a virus unto itself.

Brianna Keilar, Australian-American commentator

Reuters reports that a Danish national was the first to be convicted under Malaysia’s Anti-Fake News Bill of April 2018 for making a video clip that accused the police for taking 50 minutes to respond to a shooting incident. In court the police swore they took eight minutes. The Dane apologised. Cross-currents of opinion?

King Edward I of England (r. 1272–1307) enacted a statute making it a grave offence to devise or tell any false news of the nobles of the realm. The April 2018 law is almost similar in purpose. Revealing uncomfortable truths with corroborating credible witnesses are hazardous when veiled as fake news by Executive lawlessness.

Governments guarantee freedom of speech and the press, but impose annoying and unnecessary limits on controversy. The Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed that it is a crime for any citizen to shirk from controversy. Without controversy the modern lawmaker is encouraged to go on a frolic of his own to harass the truth through legislation.

Dani J Caile, an English teacher, hit the bullseye: “Doesn’t matter what you write, matters who reads it, doesn’t matter if it’s true, matters who believes it.”  The television programme ‘60-Minutes’ allegedly creates news, not reporting news as is the wont of yellow journalism.

Feared news is labelled fake news to shelter the privileged according to political observers who cheer whistleblowers. The judiciary has to brave the wilderness of the pervert, the convert, the covert and the overt to ferret out the truth or falsity of any matter.

Frank Serpico, Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Felt, Linda Tripp, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange are some of the prominent sirens whose revelations put the American government under the searchlights and spotlights of infamy. QAnon with its “digital soldiers” has now raised the bar by daring fake news and factual news to slug it out.

Feared news are factual news. The release of facts and figures concerning the collection of revenues and expenditure as an annual disclosure of facts should not be reserved only to the legislature. After all, a country’s wealth belongs to people, not to the government.

Freedom of speech and the press are two genuine sirens of a democracy. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to withhold factual news consistent with the need to conceal and be secretive. “Freedom” has only one meaning if there are no adjectives accompanying or embellishing it.

News media outlets are generally fearful of losing their printing and publications licences, probably because “freedom of the press” is not expressly specified in Article 10 FC, the supreme law of the land. The Reid Commission may have been remiss, or cautioned by vested interests as revealed in the sequestered Colonial Papers.

Fictionalising the truth to bring disrepute to a targeted person or a group by fabricating the evidence and cooking facts is acceptable to the fact-finding truth-seeker. Except for perjury, the telling of lies can go unscathed, undiscovered and unpunished even when the spreading of fake news is criminalised. One can lie under oath.

Science fiction is a multibillion-dollar regime now being challenged by the purveyors of fake news (fiction writers). If fiction writers and lawyers are paid to lie, the trust meter readings are very low, observed Frank R. Southers, an American law professor. But, there’s nothing wrong with a lawyer asking his client if he swears to pay the bill, the whole bill and nothing but the bill.

Political speeches qualify as fake news when spin-doctors are entrusted with speech-writing. An American campaign consultant once told me that he didn’t approve of jokes about politics because he has seen many of them get elected. He then winked and remarked that the only time politicians tell the truth is when they call each other liars!

The American lawyer Ted Olson said it was normal for the government to legitimately dish out false information using the mitigating factor of national security. The moral compass is spinning out of control. The silent majority is impotent with inaction.

A lasting solution may be at hand now that MIT has developed a system capable of identifying fake news with 96 percent accuracy using the ‘Reconnaissance of Influence Operations’ program. Artificial intelligence and human intelligence could be the difference between the real, the unreal and the false, perhaps?

Those who rely on the Internet, the tsunami of perpetual news, realise it’s like taking a drink from a fire hydrant!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.