Fake news can destablise the nation

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Borneo Bulletin/ANN) - Fake news can destablise the nation, expose individuals’ flaws and create anxiety among the community, making the environment unpleasant.

This was shared by a panel comprising officials from the Media and Cabinet Division of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Information Department, the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) and the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) Supreme Council during a seminar on tackling fake news, held at the Information Department of the PMO yesterday.

President of Brunei Darussalam Library Association Nelly binti Dato Paduka Haji Sunny said spreading of fake news through social media is a new trend perpetrated by irresponsible people which causes anxiety and destablises the nation.

"Information overload poses a serious challenge as information is spread in real time. Fake news websites are rampant and they even resemble real websites," she noted, urging authorities concerned to enhance information literacy. "We can tackle the negative impact of a fake news by verifying it first with the agencies involved," Nelly added.

Meanwhile the Acting Head of Public Relations at the RBPF ASP Mohammad Amiruddin bin Haji Tunjang highlighted a case of fake news reported last year. "It was a message about fake plastic rice spread by two foreign workers. It had caused anxiety among the public and made Bruneians doubtful about the imported rice," he said.

"No figures on reported cases of fake news are available for 2016. But in 2015, three fake news cases were reported. One was about the death of a person when in fact he was alive, another was bogus job offers in the private sector and the third was about pork meat being sold with Halal label at local supermarkets. All these fake news caused anxiety among the public and affected the business of the supermarkets.

"In 2014, one case of fake news reported a misleading promotion at a leading hotel in the country. Another example of locally spread fake news was a message which stated that skulls are used to construct the bridge linking Temburong and Limbang which caused many speculations," he explained.

ASP Mohammad Amiruddin also highlighted various enactments put in place to counter fake news.

Meanwhile, the RBPF reminded the public not to believe any suspicious news or information spread through social media within or outside the country such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or Instagram.

Such false news is aimed at influencing members of the public negatively, creating tension and an unpleasant environment. The RBPF said it is treating the matter seriously and is urging the public not to spread any unfounded information. The spreading of fake information is an offence under the Public Order Act, Chapter 148, which carries a penalty of three years’ imprisonment, or a BND3,000 fine, or both.

Posting inflammatory comments is also an offence under Chapter 24 of the Sedition Act which carries a penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of BND5,000.

Another law touches on defamation which is highlighted in Chapter 22 of the Penal Code where the perpetrator can face up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Meanwhile, Senior Special Duties Officer, Secretariat Office, MIB Supreme Council Dr Haji Muhammad Hadi bin Muhammad Melayong in his talk on ‘Tackling Fake News – the MIB Perspective’ said, "In the past, pen was mightier than sword. Later, print and electronic media became powerful tools.

"But nowadays, social media has overtaken all other media, forcing the government to monitor and prevent fake news.

"It is for an individual to decide what is right or wrong. Spreading news that exposes one’s flaws goes against Islamic teachings. We must first verify whether it is genuine or fake news," he said.

Dr Haji Muhammad Hadi also highlighted a titah delivered by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in which the monarch said, "MIB is our firewall to uphold and strengthen our values and provides security for the nation."

He recalled that His Majesty has mentioned about the MIB philosophy 52 times in his titahs in the past 34 years since the nation gained its independence.

Meanwhile, an officer from the Media and Cabinet Division at the PMO Mazinawati binti Haji Abdul Majid said tackling fake news is not solely the responsibility of the government and it requires collective action from the community. "It is for us to distinguish and assess whether a news is fake or otherwise," she added.

The seminar was organised by the Information Department through the Public Relations and Media Services Unit in collaboration with the Brunei Darussalam Library Association.

The guest of honour at the event was a member of Legislative Council Yang Berhormat Pengiran Haji Mohamed bin Pengiran Haji Osman @ Othman, the Village Head of Kampong Masjid Lama, Pekan Muara, Sabun and Pelumpong and the Acting Village Head of Kampong Serasa / RPN Serasa.

A total of 108 participants consisting of media practitioners, public relations officers and librarians were present at the seminar.