By Karen Bong
KUCHING, Nov 20: With a lot of Covid-19 misinformation circulating since the beginning of the outbreak, the credibility and reliability of news sources and information from both established or registered media outlets and alternative media using social media platforms are being questioned.
This issue was magnified after the Sarawak Covid 19 Awareness Group Facebook page had been alleged to have published ‘fake news’ which it translated from local Chinese news outlets.
However, its co-founder and admin named Jenifer Lawrence has strongly denied such doing in a Facebook message to Dayak Daily today.
“It was a journalistic error in the original news reporting which led to my misreporting,” Jenifer confided.
As such, she felt that it was unfair to be wrongly accused of publishing ‘fake news’ following a statement by Miri Division Acting Resident, who is also Miri Disaster Management Committee (MDMC) chairman, Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, on Nov 18 refuting her article as untrue and one that had caused confusion especially among Miri community who were committed to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Abdul Aziz also expressed the intention to conduct an investigation and report the matter to the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) or the police.
The situation was further complicated after Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) Public Complaints Bureau chief Wilfred Yap suggested that a jail sentence be made mandatory for people who were found guilty of posting fake news on Facebook.
According to Jenifer in her Facebook posting, the original news article by a local Chinese press, which she translated and published at 4.25 pm on Nov 18, highlighted that 46 people from Sabah had arrived in Miri using a chartered bus with the permission from State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) and they were transferred to a hotel for quarantine.
In the initial post, she had questioned the purpose of these people coming into Miri.
At 6.30pm the same day, she was informed of the factual mistakes in the article and she proceeded to update her post that “the passengers arrived using Air Asia flight from KK (Kota Kinabalu) to Miri and were transported to the quarantine centre by a bus”.
On Nov 19 at 3.15pm, Jenifer said she was saddened to be suddenly accused of reporting fake news without even anyone clarifying the issue with her. She opined that the Acting Miri Resident could have been given wrong information by irresponsible parties.
Hitting back, she questioned why the two Chinese media outlets which have carried the same news with errors were not blamed for publishing fake news.
Jenifer also feels that Abdul Aziz has overreacted and rather, he should advise all parties to issue statements to clarify the matter, instead of blaming anyone single person.
“It is regrettable that the Acting Resident has made me into a target and sacrificial lamb in the issue. I hope my explanation will satisfy the Acting Resident.
“Finally, I would like to urge all local media to fulfill their responsibilities in verifying the sources of their news. If due to misreporting, apologise sincerely and not blame the third party who translated the article.”
Noting that the 46 passengers were Sarawakians who had intended to return home to Sarawak after getting approval from SDMC, Jenifer stressed that it was the responsibility of MDMC to make known such information to the concerned public.
When contacted by DayakDaily today, Jenifer thought that it was a very small matter which did not amount to being fake news when it was a journalistic error.
“So it is ridiculous to say that it is fake news. I have updated the post to clarify the news even.
“Labelling me and the Group as spreading fake news is totally unacceptable,” she added.
Many of the Group members have come to the defence of Jenifer, agreeing that authority had “acted blindly” and throwing their support for the good job she has been doing all this while.
Members have also commended Jenifer for her bold statements clarifying the issue in the Group while some even suggested that she should take legal action against MDMC or demand an apology for the baseless accusation.
There were also those who urged all parties to communicate better to avoid such incidents in the future as “our common enemy is the covid-19 virus. Government authorities and rakyat should be united against the common virus.
Others have welcomed her back after taking time off to calm down and encouraged her to keep updating information on Covid-19 in the state.
An active contributing member, Dr Gabriel Walter pointed out that being wrong is not a crime.
“They say if you are wrong, you have propagated fake news and should be jailed. But it is not a crime to be wrong.
“We don’t want people to be scared of being wrong or sending in the wrong information. It’s ok to be wrong as long as you have good intentions.
“We want everyone to continue to contribute to this Group. The law protects you and doesn’t let anyone harass you from doing what you feel is right,” he added.
Jenifer also pointed out that the main objective for setting up the Group page was to create a platform for its members or followers to have a better awareness of the Covid-19 situation in the state.
“More importantly, it also allows members to voice out their concerns and issues of unfriendly policies by state and federal to Sarawakians. We want the best policies.
“Everybody can raise ideas or criticisms in the Group so long as it is for the betterment of Sarawakians,” she said.
According to its introduction, one of the objectives of the Group is to function as a feedback mechanism for SDMC leadership by filling in the gaps where press releases do not explain with transparency and accuracy.
It also hopes to be a platform carrying the voices of the people who may want to question and criticise poorly planned and executed policies.
“We just hope the authorities can provide many sources to the public. It is about transparency and of course without stigma. People’s awareness is always high especially in Sarawak,” she added.
The Group established on March 18, 2020 has 51,900 members currently.
The rapidly changing situation of Covid-19 naturally led people to try and get hold of reliable information about the pandemic.
But in this digital era, errors can travel fast but corrections and accurate information flow as fast too unlike in the past in which news was reported by a limited number of news outlets.
With multiple sources of information available in the digital platforms, this will enable readers and viewers to gauge any information simply by clicking on a button.
As such, it should be noted that mistakes in news reporting do happen but are not intentional.
In cases of information errors, news outlets will normally do corrections and necessary rectifications as soon as the errors were discovered.
It is believed that the public remains ‘pretty understanding’ of errors as long as news or media outlets owned up to them unless they did it too often.
In this case, we let the people be the judge whether journalistic errors can be construed as fake news. – DayakDaily