UNB Editor-in-Chief Enayetullah Khan represented Bangladesh at the 17th Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA) General Assembly in Seoul, highlighting the significance of a serious debate on the obligations of social media in democracy or even on 'Net Accountability' as the internet and social media boom is blamed for surge in fake news and misinformation.

"The rise of the Internet is helping fake news and misinformation spread faster than ever and companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are more likely to be blamed for the surge. Social media companies are struggling with fake news but insist that they have taken steps to tackle the problem," Enayetullah Khan said.

The traditional media across the globe is facing quite a challenge with a drastic change in the public sphere over the last decade. "Fake news, rising from the 'ashes of the dead news', has made people more worried nowadays," Khan said.

Leaders of key news agencies in the Asia-Pacific region gathered at Lotte Hotel in central Seoul for the four-day OANA General Assembly that began on November 7 to discuss ways to cope with the changing media landscapes and promote mutual exchanges and partnerships.

Organised by Korean Yonhap news agency and chaired by Azertac, the General Assembly brought together heads and representatives of 32 news agencies from 28 countries. Formed in 1961 at the initiative of UNESCO to promote regional news exchanges, OANA holds its general assembly after every three years. A total of 43 news agencies, including United News of Bangladesh (UNB), from 35 Asia-Pacific countries, are its members.

The members also include South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, China's Xinhua News Agency, Japan's Kyodo News and TASS Russian News Agency. North Korea's Korean Central News Agency is also a member but did not attend this year's meeting.

"Societies now face the prospect of how we would exist without credible information though there is no lack of vibrant newspapers and brilliant journalists," Khan said adding, "The question that has bedeviled the defenders of democracy for a long time is how can societies combat the stream of false - often fabricated - information that surge across the Internet and through social media, polluting political debates almost everywhere?"

He further said, "The roles of technology and tech accountability are clearly pressing and pose real challenges to Bangladesh, and it is precisely under such circumstances that our accountability standard is most needed. To develop an accountability principle, we need to discuss specific examples of unintended consequences of the functioning of the Net - hate speech, discrimination, cyber bullying, defamation and their manifestations."

It is against this backdrop, Khan said, the world urgently needs a serious debate on the roles and obligations of social media in democracy or even on 'Net Accountability' in general".

Talking about Bangladesh, he said the advancement of information technology has led to the mushrooming of online media that are more vibrant these days compared to traditional newspapers and television channels. But when it comes to credible journalism, the environment is worsening in Bangladesh as well, he said.

About tackling fake news, he said, "We in Bangladesh, have already proposed the creation of an "Internet Ombudsman" which may highlight the importance of developing a coherent and workable accountability standard for the tech community."

Later, the OANA member agency heads also had a one-hour interactive session with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Cheong WaDae, the presidential residence.

During the meeting, Moon asked OANA delegates for their continued attention and support for the Korea peace process. "Peace on the Korean Peninsula is a starting point for achieving a peace community of co-prosperity," he said.

"There's still many hurdles to overcome, but (peace) is the way (we) must go," Moon said adding, "I believe your attention and support will be of big help."

The South Korean President also referred to an agreement signed on RCEP, the world's largest mega free trade accord, and agreed to finally sign it next year. RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is a proposed free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their five FTA partners (Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Moon said this agreement carries crucial significance for the expansion of regional free trade and common prosperity.

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