Fake news – how about ‘fake world’?

SOMEHOW many world leaders have been suddenly awakened by "fake news" – made popular by US president Donald Trump in his on-going battle with the powerful global and US media. The latest incident was his Fake News Award (dubbed the "Trumpy") created to make the idea more acceptable. He seems "successful" not so much the Trumpy which has hit a snag but more the followers he garnered. He is not "moronic" after all (think Tillerson) to command such leadership among fellow world leaders.

To be sure "fake news" is not that new at all. It is just a relabelling of what used to be known as "propaganda" – targeted delivery of "false information" to cause confusion and misperception. On the global front there are many news outlets, some clandestine, pouring out propaganda against the "enemy". Voice of America and the BBC World Service are some longstanding examples.

When Malaya was fighting the Communist insurgency, a ban was imposed on listening to underground radio stations targeted at the local population as part of the psy-warfare to win hearts and minds. At the end of the day, it is about the fight to maintain or grab power regardless if the "news" has to be manipulated or falsified. The end justifies the means. Period.

So what is new about "false news"? For one, the originators are no longer limited to nation states. They are now joined by just about any one who has access to any of the ICT platforms namely the (anti-)social media. Second, if before the people on the street were the target of the "false" news now they are also actors that hurl the same to the governing power. Because they have sheer numbers their impact cannot simply be ignored, putting the people in power on the defensive as it were. It is simply where "the power of the people is greater than the people in power".

Previously the former were grouped as mere "rumour mongers"; now amplified thanks to the pervasive ICT which is a new force to reckon with. The downfall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his contemporaries are clear examples. Hence, the power of the people was muzzled by enacting new (draconian) laws aimed at curtailing their influence (eg the jailed Al Jazeera journalists). This, despite the powers that be having near monopoly to (mis)use the broadcasting apparatus of the state.

The double standards: when it comes to the people exercising similar options through the alternative media – their civil liberties are brazenly questioned. More ironic still is when several legal experts pointed out that there are more than ample legal provisions to check the situations were ignored creating a "fake world".

It is the "fake world" we are in today that needs to be urgently put right. Namely, the uneven power structures to assert command-and-control in asymmetric ways be it globally or nationally. And it is beyond "fake news" that hides it!

The recent World Economic Forum (WEF) gave glaring examples of this when the famous, rich and gullible (FRAG) converged to ensure that the world remains "fake" yet again. A case in point is when we were informed of the widening global disparity year after year since a decade ago.

Oxfam has been consistent on this in exposing how the percentage of FRAGs who owned half of the world's assets has been reduced from three digits in 2010 to single digit last year.

The year saw 82% of the wealth created in 2017 going into the pockets of 1% FRAGs.

None to half of the world's population, which numbered some 3.5 billion. If this is not a sick world than it must be a "fake" one!

But Trump and his "fake" contemporaries are not bothered two hoots about this. In fact in the WEF there was no reduction in "fake news" which was conveniently glossed over as "the confabulated truth".

Take the issue of GDP where reportedly "there remains a growing unease that measuring the health of an economy by GDP alone disguises the truly burning issues: namely, inequality." Even WEF admitted: "Decades of prioritising economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality."

Thus when GDP goes up, it is incorrectly assumed that everyone is generally happy and economic benefits are equally distributed. Whereas in reality with the disparities come "unhappiness" and "distrust of politicians" who are seen mostly as "fake leaders" especially in developing countries because they have no qualms playing the "fake" game to their advantage.

In contrast in 2008, the then French president set up a commission with Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen to come up with alternatives to GDP which is now seeing the light of day, a decade later.

Indeed WEF belatedly is proposing an "inclusive development index" (IDI) taking into account metrics like poverty, life expectancy, corruption, wealth inequality, public debt and carbon intensity as well as depletion of natural resources. In the preamble to the IDI, it recognises that slow progress in living standards and widening inequality have contributed to political polarisation and erosion of social cohesion in many advanced and emerging economies.

This has led to the emergence of a worldwide consensus on the need for a more inclusive and sustainable model of growth and development that promotes high living standards for all.

It is our fervent hope that it will deliver the final nail on the "fake world" coffin.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com