Singapore’s satirical news site New Nation has gained a bit of a reputation inside Indonesia’s media circles since one of its articles became a major headline and topic of discussion among Indonesians last week. The news was about Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who unfriended Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Facebook. In case you’re wondering, yes, it was all made up.
Major Indonesian media outlets like Kompas, TribunNews, and MetroTVNews published the news as the truth. They were then slammed by Singapore’s Straits Times for being duped. New Nation co-founder Belmont Lay explains this is not the first time it’s happened. He describes a few other instances where Malaysian and Singaporean news media also got duped.
Like with US-based The Onion (which has also been quoted as gospel truth by hapless media), the best way to tell whether or not a news item is fake is by looking carefully at the quoted sources. Lay explains they use fictitious names inside New Nation. He adds:
[The names] are usually Chinese words that have been Romanised to look like real names but are so obviously fake if you know Mandarin.
For example, the hoax name Wo Ming Bai actually means “I understand” in Chinese. And Mei Zhang Fu literally translates to “No husband”.
I don’t understand how seasoned reporters who know the Chinese language can see these names and not be suspicious at all.
A look at New Nation’s tagline, “50 percent real news,” should help, too.
Trolling people since 2010
New Nation was started in December 2010 by three Singaporeans – Belmont Lay, Terence Lee 1, and Shihan Fang. Lay says, “We took a look at the internet scene in Singapore and couldn’t stand how everyone was writing and producing annoyingly pompous pseudo-intellectual claptrap while getting credit for it. So we decided to join them to write things that are devoid of real meaning. We wanted to be The Economist of Singapore, but without all the graphs and long articles and stuff.”
As a satire news site, New Nation doesn’t have an office and the writers put in their pieces periodically according to their mood. “Nobody works for New Nation. It is entirely powered by magic and hubris,” says Lay. The three co-founders have their own full time jobs as journalists and bloggers.
Despite it not being taken very seriously by the founders, New Nation is running quite well. The site records about one million page-views a month. New Nation has ads, but Lay explains that they mainly serve as a running joke, too. “[The ads] are there so that people unfamiliar with the New Nation brand would actually believe that our site produces real, legit news.”
“The big dream of New Nation’s’ founders is to beat everyone at their own game while not taking ourselves seriously. If we do write the truth, it is purely coincidental,” explains Lay.
So this is a warning to everyone who reads New Nation not to take things too seriously.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)
- Disclosure: Terence Lee is now an editor at Tech in Asia. He doesn’t write for New Nation anymore.↩