INTRODUCTION

1. Good morning, and a very warm welcome to Singapore. Thank you for joining us for the 14th Conference of ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information, or AMRI. 

The Growth of ASEAN

2. This year, our AMRI chairmanship coincides with our ASEAN chairmanship. It is an opportune moment for us to reflect on how far ASEAN has come as a regional community.

a. ASEAN was born in tumultuous times – in the 1960s, Southeast Asia was a troubled region, regarded as a “cockpit of struggle and tension” and “the Balkans of Asia”.

b. Today, ASEAN has surpassed all expectations, and is a region that stands for peace, security, and economic development. 

c. ASEAN collectively represents the world’s sixth-largest economy,1 and is on track to become the fourth largest by 2030.2  Our economies are forecast to grow at a healthy 5.2% annually until 2022, led by Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.3  This makes the ASEAN region one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

3. Our progress owes much to ASEAN’s combined efforts to keep our markets open, to deepen economic integration and to restructure our economy. 

a. Our efforts towards regional coordination and integration culminated in the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, connecting our businesses with global markets and generating opportunities for our region.  

b. ASEAN’s active participation in the global economy has enhanced our international relevance. In these times where some major economies are turning inwards, ASEAN has been a strong voice for free and open trade.

4. We must continue to stay open and connected, and prepare to ride the next wave of growth. This next wave will be driven by technology and the digital economy. With our growing middle class and young population, ASEAN is well-placed to seize these opportunities.

a. A recent survey on the e-economy by Google and Temasek shows that we are the world’s fastest growing Internet region. The user base is projected to grow from 260 million in 2016 to 480 million by 2020.4  

b. While the ASEAN digital economy made up 2% of the region’s GDP in 2017, it is expected to grow threefold to 6%, or $200b by 2025.5 

INCLUSIVE AND INFORMED DIGITAL ASEAN

5. AMRI will play a pivotal role in leading ASEAN into the new digital age.

a. Improvements in communications technologies have shrunk the world we live in. Information technology and new media allow geographically distant peoples to communicate and build mutual understanding of each other’s cultures and ways of thinking. 

b. By facilitating access to quality information in the digital age, AMRI will encourage a shared sense of ASEAN community that transcends national borders.

6. The theme of the 14th AMRI is an “Inclusive and Informed Digital ASEAN”. To catalyse discussion, allow me to suggest three goals.

a. First, growing our digital economy, by enabling our businesses to make full use of digital technology to innovate new products and services.

b. Second, nurturing an inclusive digital society, by enabling our people in ASEAN to access and navigate the digital world.  

c. Third, building a trusted digital ecosystem that will support an informed people. As digital channels proliferate, we must respond to new challenges such as fake news. 

Digital Economy

7. The first goal, of growing the digital economy, is urgent, as technology is transforming the global economy. It is heartening that many ASEAN member states have unveiled plans to build up their digital capabilities.

a. Brunei’s Digital Government Strategy includes programmes for enhanced delivery of digital services, a unique identity for every citizen and every business, and improved tools and processes for information management.6  

b. Myanmar, where 90% of the population has been covered by mobile voice and broadband within 3 years, is drafting a Digital Economy Development Master Plan that will help it capitalise on its rapidly growing number of mobile and Internet users.7  

c. Cambodia plans to transit towards a digital economy over the next few years, with particular focus on tech start-ups, MSMEs, crowdfunding, and digital skills.8  

8. Building on these national initiatives, we must harness our strength as a region to develop a vibrant digital economy. There are many areas for cooperation. For example, we can facilitate the free flow of data across borders, introduce mutual recognition of each other’s national digital identities, or integrate customs clearance.

a. We have already begun laying the groundwork – literally – for an ASEAN digital infrastructure. The ASEAN Broadband Corridor has enhanced our communication networks and made Internet access more available and affordable across the region. 

b. Just last year, ASEAN members committed to a workplan to enhance data management capabilities of businesses, and to encourage data innovation and information flows within a digital economy.

9. AMRI has laid the foundations for stronger and more accessible digital infrastructure. 

a. Over the last few AMRI meetings, we have worked hard to discuss and coordinate ASEAN’s transition to digital broadcasting by 2020.  This will free up spectrum for us to enhance existing network capabilities or invest in upcoming technologies such as 5G.  These will in turn enable the growth of new, innovative products and services. I am happy to see that we have made very good progress as a region towards realising the potential. 

b. Vietnam, for example, switched off analogue signals in another 15 provinces last year, and Malaysia reached around 85% Digital TV coverage earlier this year.  In Singapore, we will be switching off analogue signals on 31 December 2018, and are assisting around 400,000 households to make the switch to Digital TV.

c. The switchover to Digital TV will provide ASEAN audiences with more enjoyable viewing experiences in high-definition. 

10. This coordinated shift to Digital TV is an excellent illustration of how we have managed to agree on shared goals, raise capabilities all around, and benefit our peoples as a united ASEAN.

a. Amid growing concerns over protectionist or isolationist sentiments today, I believe that ASEAN can apply our successful regional approach in digital broadcasting to other aspects of the digital economy. 

Inclusive Digital Society

11. Let me now move on to our second goal of nurturing an inclusive digital society. As ASEAN goes digital, we must ensure that our peoples progress together, and we leave no one behind. ASEAN has demonstrated this sense of inclusiveness in other areas, through technical assistance schemes, capacity-building programmes and other programmes. 

a. At the last AMRI meeting in 2016, the Ministers reaffirmed AMRI’s mission to build a strong sense of community among our people through information and media.  To achieve this, we will need to build a participative digital society across ASEAN. 

12. Many ASEAN member states have taken steps to narrow the digital divide and equip their people with the necessary skills to enter the digital age. 

a. For example, the Philippines Government recently partnered with Good Things Foundation to run a pilot project that taught skills ranging from basic tasks such as the use of keyboards, to more complex transactions such as the use of e-commerce platforms.9

b. As part of Thailand 4.0, the Thai Government’s national strategy for digital transformation, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society is sending over 1,000 Internet-savvy instructors to serve as digital trainers to people in small, rural villages.10  

c. In Laos, the Government has partnered with Microsoft to develop an online platform for training and employment. The platform will equip the country’s youth with skills such as ICT and entrepreneurship, enabling them to participate actively in the new economy.11 

13. Here in Singapore, we have a high Internet penetration rate, with 91% of our households having Internet access and 84% of Singaporean individuals being Internet users. But, there is still much work to be done. 

a. We are currently putting together a Digital Readiness Blueprint that envisions giving all Singaporeans digital access, so that they have the means to transact and connect with each other through digital technology.

b. We also want to help Singaporeans develop digital literacy, equipping them with the skills, motivation, and confidence to use technology. 

c. Beyond providing access to and equipping Singaporeans to use technology, we also aim to facilitate digital participation, which will enable Singaporeans to embrace and use technology to improve their lives. 

14. While ASEAN member states have implemented national programmes to facilitate learning and participation in their own digital spaces, we can also come together to build on each other’s ideas and initiatives. This will help us build an inclusive and informed regional community as well. 

a. To accomplish this, we will need a coordinated approach to share experiences and best practices with one another. AMRI will be discussing a set of proposed Core Values on Digital Literacy for ASEAN. This is a good example of collaborating to promote socially responsible online behaviour and provide ASEAN netizens with a safe, conducive environment.

b. The proposed Core Values have the catchy acronym “READI”, that stands for responsibility, empathy, authenticity, discernment, and integrity. 

c. I hope that AMRI Ministers will endorse this set of Core Values, which will serve as a guide for us to build values and capabilities among our people, and foster an inclusive and informed ASEAN digital community.

Trusted Digital Ecosystem

15. Finally, our third goal is to build a trusted digital ecosystem. 

a. To have an informed public and inclusive online community, our people need to be assured that the information they read, learn, and use on the Internet is reliable and not deliberately misleading. 

16. Access to quality information and media has traditionally been the bread and butter of AMRI. 

a. Without basic literacy or knowledge, our people would not be able to participate in the economy, seek out opportunities for self-improvement, or stay connected to eachanother. 

b. Here in ASEAN, digital media has become the primary source of information for many of our people, especially youths. A recent study by YouGov found that in Thailand, more than 54% of respondents shared online news content on social media at least once a day. This figure was also high in Vietnam and Indonesia, where 50% and 44% respectively of those polled did likewise.12  

c. This shift towards online sources of information has brought about an increasingly fragmented media landscape across ASEAN, and a declining interest in traditional sources of news and information. We must nurture an informed society that can navigate this rapidly changing digital landscape and face new challenges head-on.

17. One such challenge is fake news. The speed and scale of information sharing over social media has facilitated the sharing and cross-pollination of worthy ideas, but has also resulted in a trend of online falsehoods, especially deliberate ones. 

a. Social bots and search engines amplify selected narratives. Newsfeed algorithms create “echo chambers” by prioritising news from like-minded friends. The nature of online advertising revenue has resulted in the proliferation of sensational news articles.

b. In order to ensure that everyone is on board as we build up our digital economy and cultivate our digital society, it is essential that ASEAN works together to preserve trust in our digital ecosystem.

c. Our people must not only be tech-savvy, they must be information-savvy. As ASEAN moves into the digital space, we must learn how to identify and guard against the risks that arise in an increasingly inter-connected world.

18. Several ASEAN member states have taken great strides towards curbing or containing the negative effects of fake news.

a. Earlier this year, Malaysia released the mobile app version of their fact-checking portal sebenarnya.my, which allows Malaysians to check the authenticity of news and submit queries regarding unverified information.13  

b. Indonesian civil society group Masyarakat Anti Fitnah Indonesia, or MAFINDO, began by setting up a Facebook group that crowdsourced reports of suspected falsehoods. Today, MAFINDO has 6 full-time fact-checkers and 1 programmer, and has rolled out a “clean” search engine that only lists legitimate news sites.14  

c. Here in Singapore, we convened a Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this year to look into deliberate online falsehoods. The Select Committee held public hearings to seek views from various sectors, including academia, technology firms, civil society, and students on practical solutions to address fake news, and is currently putting together its recommendations.

19. These national efforts are necessary in order address the challenges of online falsehoods and deliberate misinformation. However, given the transnational nature of trends and threats in the digital world, by themselves they are not adequate. We must also work together to cultivate a resilient, trusted digital ecosystem across ASEAN. 

a. One possible means to achieve this would be the proposed ASEAN Framework to Minimise the Harmful Effects of Fake News, which I understand AMRI will be discussing as a means of aligning collaborations and exchanges of experiences. The Framework sets out four broad strategies for ASEAN member states to reference in our efforts to address online falsehoods.

b. The first of these strategies is education and awareness, which refers to the cultivation of a discerning and well-informed public that can critically evaluate the information they come across online. 

c. The second is detection and response, which entails regular monitoring by governments, as well as commitment to fact-checking by organisations. 

d. The third strategy is norms and guidelines, which aim to empower and protect consumers, while encouraging industry players to contribute. 

e. Finally, the last strategy, which will buttress the other three, is community and ground-up participation, which recognises that mitigating the harmful effects of fake news is everyone’s responsibility.

f. If adopted, this framework will help the ASEAN member states to better cooperate with one another to establish a trusted digital ecosystem where our people will be guaranteed access to reliable sources of information and media. 

g. Together, our digital economy, digital society, and digital ecosystem will place us in good standing to ensure that ASEAN remains relevant and resilient in an ever-changing world.

CONCLUSION 

20. I would like to conclude by thanking all of the attendees today for your efforts in building up the information and media sector in ASEAN and to thank Minister Iswaran for inviting me to speak at this event, where so many of our ASEAN colleagues and friends from the region are gathered here in Singapore. In fact, Minister Iswaran did not mention that besides me being the chair of the Committee of Future Economy, he is my co-chair. So we are together in this. 

a. ASEAN cooperation has enabled us to achieve economic development, regional integration, peace and security. In the coming years, ASEAN can and should build on this good foundation that we have and already achieved to go for even loftier goals, to be a vibrant digital economy, to be a trusted and closely-knitted online community with shared values. Together, we can give everyone in ASEAN a stake in our digital future, and take our people forward. 

b. I wish you all a productive meeting ahead.

 

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[1] ASEANStatistics 1967-2017 ASEAN Economic Progress, 2017 
[2] US-ASEAN Business Council https://www.usasean.org/why-asean/growth. Updated on 16 May 2017.
[3] OECD Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2018: Fostering Growth through Digitalisation
[4] e-conomy SEA: Unlocking the $200 billion digital opportunity in Southeast Asia, Temasek Holdings and Google, 2016.
[5] e-Conomy SEA Spotlight 2017: Unprecendented Growth for Southeast Asia’s $50b internet economy
[6] Brunei Darussalam Digital Government Strategy 2015 – 2020. 
[7] Realising Digital Myanmar: Leapfrogging to an inclusive digital economy, Telenor, 2016.
[8] Cambodia targets digital economy by 2023: Minister, Xinhua, 2017.
[9] Digital Literacy in the Philippines: a pilot project, Good Things Foundation, 2016.
[10] Ministry will send digital trainers to villages. Royal Thai Embassy, Washington D.C., 2017.
[11] Igniting the potential of Lao youth by empowering them through training and technology, Microsoft, 2016.
[12] 68% of APAC residents believe there is a problem with fake news on digital platforms, YouGov, 2017.
[13] MCMC to release app for fact-checking portal, The Malaysian Insight, 2016.
[14] Money, politics behind spread of falsehoods in Indonesia: Founder of anti-hoax community. Channel NewsAsia, 2018.