After Al Jazeera show listed, minister says Sebenarnya deals with more than ‘fake news’

By Ida Lim
Salleh said that the police and ministry are in the midst of investigating third parties who supplied such information on Lowyat.net. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 — Listing on Putrajaya's Sebenarnya.my website does not automatically mean a news item is false, a minister explained after an Al Jazeera documentary appeared in the government's “fake news” checker.

Communications and Multimedia minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak said the news portal has also introduced a category for “viral” news or items that merited some form of government response, as was the case with the Doha-based news outlet's documentary alleging that Malaysia was home to baby-selling syndicates.

“After one month of launching Sebenarnya.my, we received many feedback from people requesting for Sebenarnya.my to not only post the fake news, but to also consider posting the 'viral' news which also have potential to affect the public and national interest, hence the article was posted under the ‘viral' category which provides clarification on viral issues regarding public and national interests.

“We just started it very recently,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

He further explained that the entry on the Al Jazeera documentary was based on the police and Health Ministry’s clarifications and responses to the allegations contained in the programme titled “Malaysia: Babies for Sale”.

The Sebenarnya.my portal was launched on March 14 under the auspices of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the government's Internet regulator, to provide Malaysians an outlet to corroborate news and developments online.

Salleh explained that with the addition of the “viral” category, the site could proactively address controversial issues before it could positively determine their veracity.

He also stressed that the service was intended to help the public distinguish “fake news” on issues of public or national interest, adding that it handled news items as old as from 2010.

“Should any content be seen to be suspicious, Sebenarnya.my will reach out to the specific agency to provide the right information. Until Sebenarnya.my can affirm that the news is fake, it will 'park' the item in concern under 'tular',” he added, using the Malay term for “viral”.

The total number of items posted up on the site was not provided.

Sebenarnya.my received 3.3 million views last month alone, according to Salleh who said the response demonstrated the public’s reception towards the service.

It gets around 10 submissions from the public requesting clarification each day. These are posted on the portal after MCMC obtains clarification from the relevant government agencies, he said.

Listings on the Sebenarnya.my portal typically include a summary and accompanying clarifications along with links to sources of information. Other information include classification as either “false” or “viral”, along with the date the item began spreading.

When contacted for response regarding the listing of its documentary on Sebenarnya.my, a spokesman for Al Jazeera English said the news outlet takes its editorial independence seriously and stood by the work of its journalists, whom it said provided “exemplary and fair coverage at all times”.

“This investigation is based on months of painstaking research and led to several arrests. Every effort was given for the right of reply to all those mentioned in the programme,” the spokesman added.

The documentary aired in November alleged of a thriving trade in Malaysia where babies were sold, and that doctors and other government officials could even falsify birth certificates to list the adoptive parents as the infants’ biological parents.

In a written March 22, 2017 parliamentary reply to PKR MP Sim Tze Tzin who had asked for confirmation on the veracity of the documentary's content and the resulting action by the police, the home minister said investigations were carried out under a local anti-human trafficking law and the Child Act.

The home minister had said that eight individuals were arrested following raids on three clinics and four houses, with seven released on police bail and one sentenced to seven months' jail over an immigration offence of illegally overstaying in Malaysia.