Lies & fake news not just Malaysian problem but worldwide phenomenon: MP Kit Siang

Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, 14th October 2019:

Former IGP provides light but shocking relief to a dark and sombre subject of the upsurge of lies, fake news and hate speech to destroy Malaysia by polarising inter-racial and inter-religious relations and conflict

Former Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan has provided light but shocking relief to a dark and sombre subject of the upsurge of lies, fake news and hate speech to destroy Malaysia by polarising inter-racial and inter-religious relations and conflict.

Yesterday, Malaysians on the cyberspace were tickled no end by the episode of the former IGP trying to defend the impossible when Musa tried to justify sharing and believing an article from a satirical news website on terrorist Osama Bin Laden and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), entitled “CIA Issues Posthumous Apology After New Evidence Clears Osama Bin Laden Of Involvement In 9/11 Attacks”.

Despite repeated attempts by Twitter users to point out the farcical nature of the article by the website The Onion, which said the CIA made a posthumous apology to Bin Laden in light of new evidence which cleared him of involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City, Musa remained adamant.

Musa said in an early response: “If the news is not true, the US government must deny it.”

When others began to mock or chastise him for believing in the article which could damage the police’s reputation, Musa replied that it had nothing to do with the Malaysian police.

“If it was not broadcasted then no one would spread it around? Is it a freedom to spread false news or slander? If the answer is yes, it is an illogical freedom.”

He added: “No wonder the world is in such chaos, for allowing such false news.”

As more and more Twitter users criticised the former inspector-general, he went on a lengthy rant about ‘irresponsible journalism’.

“It is still slander even if one meant to be humourous or joking by saying something untrue.”

There are six reasons why such a boo-boo or snafu is most embarrassing and disturbing.

First, it was made by a former Inspector-General of Police.

Second, clearly the former IGP did not understand the meaning of “satire”.

Thirdly, Musa is now a lecturer at the Centre of Media and Information Warfare Studies at the Universiti Teknology MARA (UiTM), raising questions about the quality of the UiTM’s Centre of Media and Information Warfare Studies when its most star-studded lecturer who was a former IGP does not know that the Onion.com is an American satirical digital media company that publishes articles on international, national, and local news, both real and fictional, satirising the tone and format of traditional news organisations with stories using a traditional news website layout.

As a result, the Malaysian satirical website, The Tapir Times, which confessed it is a “silly work of satire and fiction”, carried the latest report of “Ex-IGP Musa Hassan removed from CIA Watchlist” purportedly quoting from a CIA source that “Once it was revealed the former Malaysian police chief didn’t know all you need is a pulse and a website to produce silly online news, he was no longer considered a potential mastermind behind any ongoing CIA and FBI investigations”.

Fourthly, that the Onion satire was not a new item, but dated ten months ago January 9, 2019!

This following is the satirical story:

“LANGLEY, VA—Admitting that the organisation had erroneously rushed to judgment in response to an unimaginable tragedy, CIA director Gina Haspel issued a posthumous apology Wednesday to the family of Osama bin Laden in light of new evidence which conclusively clears the former Al Qaeda leader of any involvement whatsoever in the 9/11 attacks.

“’The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency extends its most sincere and heartfelt apologies not only to Mr. bin Laden, but also to his grieving family and the many friends who stood by his side,’ said an emotional Haspel, acknowledging for the first time that the CIA had based its entire 9/11 investigation on the testimony of a single, questionably reliable eyewitness who later recanted.

“’Our organisation acted in haste and without full knowledge, and in doing so, took the life of a loving husband, father, businessman, and highly effective community organiser. We understand there is nothing we can do or say will bring Osama back, but we hope the bin Laden family will accept restitution of $18 million in recognition of their pain and suffering. No one deserves to endure what you have been through.’

“Haspel further confirmed that the agency was now operating under the assumption that Zacarias Moussaoui acted alone in perpetrating the events of 9/11.”

Fifthly, Malaysia became the butt of jokes on Twitter because the nation’s former IGP became the butt of jokes on cyberspace for sharing and believing a 10 month-old satirical article about the CIA in all seriousness and refused to back down – equating a satirical site on the same status as leading journals like New York Times or Washington Post.

This does not speak well either for the calibre and quality of Malaysia’s top public officers or university education.

Sixthly, Musa’s blooper illustrates how difficult it is going to be for Malaysia to declare war on the upsurge of lies, fake news and hate speech to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation and conflict in Malaysia, which must be regarded as one of existential threats of Malaysia.

The UiTM’s Centre of Media and Information Warfare Studies should be one of the media schools and agencies which should play a leading role to promote national media literacy from the kindergarten level to universities, as is happening in Finland and other countries concerned about the danger of fake news.

But how can they play such a role when they are ignorant about the character of Onion.com or The Tapir Times?

Lies, fake news and hate speech is not just a Malaysian problem, but a worldwide phenomenon, which is why the Doomsday Clock 2019 is currently set at two minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953 during the Cold war, because fake news is now recognised as the third existential threat to humanity apart from nuclear warfare and climate change.

But are Malaysians sufficiently aware of the dangers to the nation of the untrammelled spread of lies, fake news and hate speech, with another upsurge of lies, fake news and hate speech after the presentation of the 2020 Budget by the Finance Minister on Friday?

The answer cannot be positive from the shocking episode of former IGP Musa Hassan and Onion.com.

LIM KIT SIANG

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