Our News

12
Jul, 2018

FAKE NEWS IS BIG NEWS!

From a simple expression often used by US President Donald Trump to variously describe news and comments by his opponents and detractors, “fake news” has certainly taken on a global dimension.

Consider these developments: India, UK, France and Germany are currently exploring laws to curb the spread of fake news. Malaysia is one of the first countries in the world to enact an Anti-Fake News Act, which came into force on 11 April 2018, just before the 14th general elections. However, the Act received heavy criticism from politicians and civil society for its open definitions and sweeping powers given to the government. 

Fake news is not a new problem at all, for sure. But the internet and social media have made it very immediate and perhaps even more dangerous. Sure, the internet and social media has democratised information, making it available to anyone. But it has also made it harder to tell fact from fake. Rumours that used to take weeks or months to spread can be shared to hundreds or thousands of people at a click of a button and there are zero filters in place.

This is not just a Malaysian dilemma. I attended the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) meeting in Canada earlier this year, and fake news was discussed by PR professionals from all over the world. It is a widespread problem that needs urgent attention.

Even former US President Barack Obama weighed in on this issue. In a 2016 press conference in Germany, he said, “In an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in soundbites and snippets off their phones—if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

Real-world Consequences

What might seem like good, useful content from the user’s perspective can have very negative consequences - from loss of business reputation to loss of relationship to even loss of life.

Case in point: you may have seen videos circulating on social media showing a Malaysian brand of cream crackers being set on fire. The video makers claimed the crackers burned because it contained plastic. This is wholly untrue. But commenters were quick to condemn the company and call for investigations, boycotts, etc. Those who tried to point out the basic scientific facts of why the crackers could burn could not convince the angry mobs and could not stop the videos from going viral.

Fake news can have horrifying consequences too. In India, messages warning of outsiders coming into villages to kidnap children were widely circulated through Whatsapp. Paranoid locals began attacking random strangers who happened to be passing through their village, resulting in several deaths. Police are having a hard time trying to dispel the rumours to avoid more of such mob lynchings. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, rumours spread on social media have resulted in bloody sectarian violence.

If fake news is such a problem, why do people still spread it?

Social and digital media has effectively displaced mainstream media as the primary channel of information. In the Perspective Strategies Youth Perspectives study, one of the largest youth surveys in Malaysia, we discovered that 93% of those surveyed went online every day. Over half of them spent up to 5 hours a day online!

Similarly, in an international survey by global communications firm Edelman, 45% of respondents said they consumed news from mainstream news sources less than once a week. At the core of this shift away from mainstream media is credibility and trust issues, which may perhaps shift over time due to the current changing media landscape in Malaysia.

When there is a credibility deficit in established media, it’s only natural to turn to those whom people trust most – friends and family. Content shared by friends, family or other “influencers” automatically receive a credibility boost because of the perceived trustworthiness inherent in the relationship. This is confirmed by the Youth Perspectives study, which discovered that young Malaysians ranked information shared by friends and family as “most trusted”.

The reality is, in most cases, no one sets out to lie to their friends and family. But the problem is that social media has zero check and balance. While mainstream news organisations have a code of ethics, such as using reputable sources and checking facts, and can be held accountable for their content, anyone can produce and share fake news indiscriminately through social media. And because fake news is typically geared to provoke reaction, it has almost become a reflex action to hit that “share” button on the screen.

Even mainstream media is not immune to spreading fake news. In the rush not to be left out of breaking news stories, mainstream media does at times report on sensational rumours. Although they are usually careful to couch it in neutral terms, it still gives the rumours some sheen of credibility. In the case of the child-kidnapping rumours in India, news channels reporting on the rumours further fuelled the villagers’ paranoia, driving some of them into a murderous rage.

All these is leading to a rising uncertainty about what is real and what is fake news. In the Edelman survey, 63% of respondents agreed that an average person cannot distinguish rumours from good journalism. About 73% were concerned about the potential negative impact of fake news. From the Youth Perspectives survey, we also discovered that ironically only 9.2% of young Malaysians fully trusted information seen on social media.

So are fake news laws the answer?

I don’t believe legislation is the answer because it represents a swing to the opposite extreme. Fake news critics charge that such laws can be easily abused to silence dissent and hide truths from the public. This is a universal concern as every government around the world that has considered fake news laws has met with strong resistance.

It would also be difficult to identify the original creators of fake news in the digital world, where information is shared at the speed of a finger tap. It would be like looking for a needle in the world wide haystack.

So, what can be done about fake news?

The new Pakatan Harapan government’s decision to get rid of the Fake News Act will ensure we continue to enjoy freedom of speech without unnecessary fear of repercussions. However, a solution still needs to be found for this huge problem.

I believe self-regulation is the key. Lu Yin Yin of the Oxford Internet Academy told Wired magazine in April 2018 that the best choice is to allow the people to deal with fake news themselves, rather than letting the government take care of it for them.

Everyone – media owners, businesses, consumers and other stakeholders – has a responsibility to address this issue. The concerted efforts of everyone will certainly help stem the tide of fake news. We have the responsibility not only to ourselves but also to society at large.

Perhaps one idea we should consider an initiative similar to the News Literacy Project (NLP) in the U.S. The NLP is a non-profit organisation that works with educators and journalists to teach students how to distinguish real and fake news in the digital age, so that they can be smart consumers of information and engaged, informed participants in civic life.

The proposal to set up a Media Council by the Communications and Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh Deo, is also a step in the right direction towards addressing the issue of fake news. The Public Relations Consultants’ Association of Malaysia (PRCA Malaysia) fully supports this initiative and has written to the Minister to seek participation in the Media Council.

As the PR industry deals with the media on behalf clients on a daily basis, the Media Council presents a great opportunity for us to share our experience to serve the common good. As such, the PR industry looks forward to having the opportunity to contribute positively to the Media Council dialogues.

7 WAYS TO DEAL WITH FAKE NEWS

(IF YOUR BRAND/ORGANISATION IS HIT)

There is no standard action plan for those affected by fake news. Each case must be evaluated individually. But here are some general guidelines of how you can be prepared:

1. Have a crisis communications plan in place

Anticipate all the possible issues and prepare your communication strategies accordingly in advance. This is like a fire drill. Basically, your plan should look like what you would have already done to successfully overcome a fake news story.

2. Check your emotions

It’s easy to get riled up when you or your organization is unfairly targeted but that just serves the fake news machine. Always stay calm, objective and strategic. Don’t respond when emotional.

3. Research the source

Knowing where the story is coming from will give you more information to use in your response strategy.

4. Pick your battles

Often, issues are blown up by a response to something that would have faded away anyway. Consider the life cycle of the issue - is this fading story or a growing story? Sometimes, not responding is the best strategic option.

5. Timeliness

Don’t let the news grow legs. If a response is required, quickly craft a response that clearly states your true position. After all, this is the digital age, news cycles are 24/7.

6. Turn it around

Instead of being defensive, regain control of the narrative by using the negative news as the starting point to explain your company’s brand values. And keeping it going from there.

7. Ride it out

Sometimes, any response will only make things worse. The best thing to do then is just to grit your teeth and wait for the storm to pass. As fast as it hits, in the digital age, it may pass by at lightning speed as well.

 

12
Jul, 2018

In The Media: FAKE NEWS IS BIG NEWS!

From a simple expression often used by US President Donald Trump to variously describe news and comments by his opponents and detractors, “fake news” has certainly taken on a global dimension.







This article was originally published  in Malaysian Business July 2018 edition.

22
May, 2018

Regaining Trust Post GE14: A New Hope for the Mainstream Media?

By Andy See Teong Leng

Weeks after the watershed May 9 elections, Malaysia is still in a state of immense flux. Not just the political landscape, but the ripple effects of the Pakatan Harapan victory is being felt on all fronts.
 
One of the most significant effects is on the media landscape. The dynamics of the entire industry had changed just a few hours after the elections. Mainstream media, which had previously ignored “Opposition news”, suddenly devoted hours and hours of coverage.
 
Astro Awani journalists, not known for their boldness previously, hailed the election results as a “new dawn” for Malaysia after the results were announced. Analyses, commentaries and panel discussions took up most of the programme and previously taboo topics came to the forefront.
 
This turnaround is good for the mainstream media. After years of declining influence (and thus audience and sales), the mainstream media can see a “new dawn” of its own.
 
State-run Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama found itself suddenly under new “owners” for the first time since the nation’s independence. The other private mainstream media, owned by the former ruling political parties, are also having to find their footing in the new era. It was reported that Datuk Abdul Jalil Hamid, CEO of the pro-BN New Straits Times Press, told about 200 employees that the company needed to adjust to the current political environment.
 
Perhaps most ironically, Utusan Malaysia, the at times vocal anti-Pakatan paper, carried a full page advertisement congratulating Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail on becoming the new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively.
 
There were other consequences as well. When the markets reopened on the following Monday, shares in the loss-making Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd fell by as much as 7 sen or 22.58%, a five-year low, after its major shareholder UMNO was defeated in the elections. Meanwhile, several senior executives and directors of BN-owned media companies have resigned from their positions.
 
On the other hand, Malaysiakini, an on-line news portal that was often barred from government press conferences, has now become the “new mainstream”, joining other mainstream media in covering the regular press conferences by the new Prime Minister. In fact, its minute-by-minute election coverage on the night of May 9 drew over 10 million Internet users while another 7.2 million watched KiniTV online.
 
So what are the key takeaways of this media new landscape, especially for those who are in the PR business?
 
1. Credibility Matters Most!

Barisan Nasional Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin admitted that the BN lost because they were in denial of the huge credibility gap they were facing as the news being presented in the mainstream media did not match the experience and perceptions of the ordinary folks. Obviously, the mainstream media’s narrative could not overcome this credibility gap.
 
The Pakatan Harapan’s success on online and social media on the other hand, is due to the perceived credibility of their information - what readers saw and experienced matched the information they were consuming.
 
It would seem that with the change of parties at the helm of government, the entrenched roles of media has changed as well. In the days immediately following the elections, huge numbers of rumours and fake news began spreading like wildfire online. Social media - the traditional frontline of Pakatan Harapan communications - is quickly showing its weaknesses as a reliable source of information. On the other hand, the traditionally BN-friendly mainstream media is quickly rediscovering its role as being a reliable source of verified information again.  
 
This shift shows that credibility is key no matter what the channel. Which brings me to my next point.
 
2. Fake News is a Real Problem

The problem of fake news is real. It’s not a new problem at all, for sure. But the internet and social media have made it a very immediate and perhaps even more dangerous. This is not just a Malaysian dilemma. I attended the recent Public Relation Global Network meeting in Canada, where this problem of fake news was discussed by PR professionals from all over the world.
 
In the post-GE euphoria, netizens were sharing unverified news over social media indiscriminately. Perhaps the most prominent are the videos of stacks of cash and valuables supposedly seized by the authorities from former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib’s house, and the fake news about a RM1 billion no-obligation gift from the Sultan of Brunei to the new Malaysian government. Government officials and politicians from both sides had to take time to deny the various rumours and fake news.
 
In the rush not to be left out of breaking news stories, the mainstream media does at times report on sensational rumours making the circles online. Although they are careful to couch it in neutral terms, this unfortunately still gives the rumours some sheen of credibility.
 
I believe that PR professionals have a responsibility to address this issue, along with our partners in the media, as unchecked rumours and fake news could lead to negative consequences on a wider scale.
 

3. Content is King

Netizens were starving for post-election content, and they lapped up everything that was available on social media, whether it was news (fake or otherwise), memes, commentaries or rumours. Only to discover later that much of what was circulating was fake news.

Perhaps there was a collective sigh or relief when Selangor Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Azmin Ali declared that it was now okay to get the news from mainstream media again. The credibility of these publications and news channels suddenly shifted and trust was regained, simply because their content was seen as credible again, particularly political news!

The mainstream media could now step in to fill in the vacuum of credible content. Many netizens were impressed by the quality of coverage by the mainstream media and it became a source of verified – and trustworthy – information.

As this rapidly shifting media landscape shows, content is what that shapes public opinion. The media channels that deliver the content is important but secondary. This is something we need to constantly remind ourselves of as PR professionals. We work with media channels to get our message out effectively, but it is the content that is key.

As PR and communication professionals, we are the agents for shaping public opinions. We have the responsibility not only to our clients but also to society at large to ensure that news ought to be disseminated responsibly as well.

A new beginning calls for action from each and every one of us.

17
May, 2018

Perspective Strategies and Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) Elect C.L. Conroy as President

News literacy and #metoo among larger issues discussed by global PR professionals

KUALA LUMPUR (May 18, 2018) – Perspective Strategies and the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) announced today the new lineup of officers for one of the largest PR agency networks in the world. The officers were elected during the consortium’s recent bi-annual meeting in Toronto, Canada.

PRGN members from more than 31 regions from around the globe elected C.L. Conroy, president and CEO of Miami, Florida-based The Conroy Martinez Group, as its 26th president. Conroy will now lead the worldwide network of 51 independently-owned firms for the next 12 months. Christina Rytter, managing director and founder of Copenhagen, Denmark-based Scandinavian Communications, assumes the role of immediate past president and chair of the Advisory Board.  Other officers named include President-elect Aaron Blank, president/CEO of Seattle-based The Fearey Group, Secretary Leeza Hoyt, president of Los Angeles-based The Hoyt Organization and Treasurer Sean Dowdall, General Manager and Chief Marketing Officer of San Francisco-based Landis Communications, Inc..




Founded in 1992 by a group of visionary public relations leaders, PRGN is one of the world’s largest international PR networks, representing over $101 million in revenues and approximately 1,000 professionals across 51 locations.

PRGN members are independent, local, owner-operated public relations and marketing communications firms. The PRGN network enables sharing of expertise and resources, while providing broad-based comprehensive communications strategies to clients worldwide. 

“With 51 agencies on six continents, the network is as strong as ever,” said Conroy. “We are excited to offer multi-disciplinary firms in practically every corner of the world helping our clients have a global footprint where ever they need it.”



PRGN partners meet twice a year in cities around the world. At the recent three-day Toronto conference, the group’s leadership teams discussed industry best practices and new ways to collaborate and develop business partnerships globally. Additionally, key break-out sessions discussed the #metoo movement, promoting news literacy in the age of fake news and creating a safe workplace for employees. The next conference will be held in Bucharest, Romania in October 2018. 

Independent agencies interested to join the network can visit the member recruitment section of the PRGN website for more information or email its membership chair, Lynn Erasmus, General Manager of HWB Communications, at info@hwb.co.za

Companies or organizations keen to know more about the services of PRGN’s local agency network can visit www.prgn.com for more information.



23
Apr, 2018

In the Media: PRCA Malaysia lines up new exco members for 2018 – 2020



This article was originally published in sme.com.my on 23 April 2018.