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News & Views

Southeast Asian consumers want unbiased news

Fake news occurs daily on a global level, but is arguably a particularly pertinent topic for Southeast Asia, where many people are still relatively new not only to the concept of a free cyberspace, but to open access to non-censored information after years of state control. This leaves them wide open to fake news reports.

Governments across the region have taken this on board and have been ramping up their efforts to combat fake news. The Singapore government is the latest to join the fray, with the formation on January 10th of a select committee to tackle ‘deliberate online falsehoods’. They join China, which introduced its cybersecurity law in June 2017, and Thailand, whose ‘Media Watch’ smartphone app launched in December and enables the public to report any fake news direct to the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Public Health.

Brands are also getting in on the act. Tencent claimed to have blocked 490 million false stories on its WeChat platform in 2017, or 1,000 stories per minute.

Which is good news for consumers, as a recently published study into global attitudes by the Pew Research Centre found that the majority of Southeast Asian consumers want unbiased coverage of political issues from their news media. The survey, conducted in Spring 2017 in 38 countries, featured six from Southeast Asia: India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

Across the world, consumers claim to follow both national and local news closely, and Southeast Asian countries are no different. Globally, consumers are favouring national news over local with two notable exceptions – India and Indonesia, who prefer local.

However, the use of the internet as a source for news and social media in particular varies considerably across countries globally, and this is mirrored in Southeast Asia. South Korea and Vietnam are both avid uses of the internet and social media for their news, with South Korea having the highest percentage of both of all countries surveyed! Japan is a big user of the internet for news, but not social media. India, Indonesia and the Philippines are among the world’s least likely countries to use the internet or social media as a news source.

Globally, not surprisingly, consumers favour accurate and politically balanced news, and for the most part they believe their own news organisations achieve this — more so than in Southeast Asia, barring one notable exception in South Korea. Only Greece was more cynical of the ability of its press to report news accurately and impartially than South Koreans.

We need all need to trust and believe that our news media will act with integrity. It’s been well reported how the rise in fake news has dented this credibility and has had a potentially detrimental knock on effect on consumers’ ability to trust what brands say too. It behoves us all to support any initiatives to combat fake news and to seize the opportunity to build and strengthen our own brands’ relationship with the truth.

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