For crying out loud, please understand what’s fake news

It is perhaps one of the ironies of the New Malaysia that some of the most vocal opponents of the Anti-Fake News Act are now the loudest to cry “fake news” whenever a report has accuracy issues, whether it is a typo, a translation error or a take on a piece of political gossip that has come to dominate the national psyche.

Some of the ruling politicians today, like the ruling politicians before May 9, 2018, appear to have no clue what the phrase means and liberally use it when calling out their critics.

“Fake news” is a phrase weaponised by none other than Donald Trump against media critical of him in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. In his first press conference after winning the presidency, he even accused a CNN reporter of being “fake news”.

The copycat acts were almost viral. Suddenly, fake news was the greatest threat, with politicians from Australia to Canada accusing their rivals and the media of spreading it. Collins Dictionary even named “fake news” as the Word of the Year.

In Malaysia, there’s no prize for guessing who uses it with the most passion these days.

Many other Trump copycats are lurking behind the cushioned seats of the Dewan Rakyat on both sides of the divide.

The difference is that perhaps Trump, despite his famously repulsive sound bytes, may have succeeded in convincing his supporters that his election promises were not fake news, even if the positive changes were never his work. Since coming to power, he has basked in his country’s economic growth after the worst slump in US history in the last decade.

Can the same be said of the current government’s countless policies after coming to power? Perhaps it’s time for members of the press to throw back this highly weaponised phrase at our politicians.

Our politicians must learn to understand what fake news is. It is deliberate disinformation, and has nothing to do with honest mistakes in reporting.

Abdar Rahman Koya is editor-in-chief of FMT.