Fake news: up close and personal

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Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Corporate Watch

It was only a few days after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) en banc found “Rappler, Inc., and Rappler Holdings Corporation, a mass media entity, and its alter ego violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign equity Restrictions in Mass Media enforceable through laws and rules within the mandate of the Constitution” (SP case No. 08-17 001 Decision dated January 11, 2018). “President Rodrigo Duterte hit Rappler anew (not the first time) just as it reeled from the SEC revocation of its registration over supposed foreign ownership (absolutely not allowed under the Constitution)” (CNN Philippines, January 17, 2018).

“Duterte was particularly irked by Rappler’s report citing documents that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go intervened in a multibillion-peso project for the Philippine Navy. The President slammed the news item, calling the site a peddler of fake news (Ibid.).” Bong Go denied endorsing to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Hanhwa Thales, a South Korean company, to provide the combat management system (CMS) of two brand new Navy frigates to be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries (Ibid.). Sec. Lorenzana denied firing former Philippine Navy chief Ronald Joseph Mercado, who preferred the Thales Tacticos CMS.

“Your articles are rife with innuendos and pregnant with falsity. We don’t intervene with the affairs of the Armed Forces. You can stop your suspicious mind from roaming somewhere else. But since you are a fake news outlet and I am not surprised your articles are also fake,” Duterte was quoted to have said (Ibid.).

And so the SEC-Rappler issue on foreign ownership morphed into a Fake News accusation and a counter-claim of press freedom curtailment. Opinion columnist Randy David said: “There’s no question about it: Rappler’s legal troubles were triggered by its commentaries and criticisms of President Duterte and his policies. Mr. Duterte has said many times that he finds these criticisms unfair, and that he will not take them sitting down. Rappler’s persecution follows a clear pattern under this administration (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan. 21).

While Rappler was busy trying to appeal their foreign ownership issue — clearly and objectively a separate matter in the eyes of the regulator SEC — the Senate put together their second hearing on Fake News (the first was in October, 2017), purportedly to evolve legislation to control or define this, as it ingrains into the “New Normal” (live on CNN Philippines, Jan. 30).

Perhaps the Manila Times editorial subsequent to the Senate “investigation in aid of legislation” describes well how the whole televised exercise came across to many: “At the second hearing on fake news by the Senate committee on public information and mass media, we were startled to witness how the process turned into a smorgasbord of freewheeling and self-serving statements by its many resource persons”(The Manila Times, February 1).”

“Things would have been different had the Senate committee requested its resource persons to present coherent and concise statements on their thinking and recommendations on how to best address the fake news problem, instead of just letting everyone orate to promote their own self-interests (Ibid.).”

Yet in the next breath, The Manila Times editorial said: “Maria Ressa, chairman and CEO of the beleaguered Rappler organization, had the effrontery to make this insinuation (that the paper is controlled by Duterte) on the flimsy ground that President Duterte appointed last year our chairman emeritus, Dr. Dante Ang, as special envoy for international public relations of our government (Ibid.).” Up close and personal!

And Senator Manny Pacquiao, at the Senate hearing, seemed livid at now Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy who posted in her blog in 2016 that Pacquiao, (then a Senatorial candidate) a Christian, was maintaining his mistress in a subdivision (the house later turned out to be Pacquiao’s staff’s). Pacquaio did not stop until he elicited a public apology from Badoy who admitted her sources were subdivision guards and a vendor of taho (ABS-CBN, Jan. 30).

Badoy recovered her “dignity” by publicly declaring at the Senate hearing, “The Vice-President (Leni Robredo) is one of the primary purveyors of fake news and the President may be an even bigger victim than she is (GMA News, Jan. 30).” After Badoy, veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas said “fake news” in the country is primarily spread by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte. She lamented how misinformation is spread using taxpayers’ money (ABS-CBN, Jan. 31). At the Senate hearing, Tordesillas said Vera Files is keeping a tally of how many lies the President told in each speech. Rappler corroborates this: “The President knows who produces fake news in the Philippines, and it certainly is not Rappler. He doesn’t have to look far from where he sits in Malacañang (CNN Philippines, Jan. 17).”

Vergel Santos, director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said in a 2006 talk show already dissecting this Fake News monster: “there is no such thing as good news or bad news. There is only news. It’s good or bad depending on who views it (Ellen Tordesillas blog: “Curtailing freedom of expression redux,” Jan 22 2018, citing Santos). All the personal hatred, and all that scheming, manipulating grasping for power, besmirching reputations, changing perceptions! In the Christian Ten Commandments, there is the eighth commandment that says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20:16).”

Tordesillas pointed out that “there are moves in the House of Representatives to insert the words ‘responsible exercise’ in the freedom of speech part in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, a revival of the same attempt made by the government of Gloria Arroyo in 2006 (Ibid.).” “But the proposed change in the freedom of expression provision strikes at the core of our basic rights as a citizen of a democratic country. The key change here is in the word ‘responsible’. Who will determine what responsible exercise of freedom of speech is? Who will determine what a responsible press is? Who will determine responsible petition for redress of grievances?” (Ibid.)

In other words, there is no ready solution to the proliferation of fake news in our country, or even in the world, where other countries are getting alarmed about this malady. The point to remember is that the surge of freedom from the convenient facility that is social media gives must be balanced with the exacting demand for verifiable sources and statistics — we just do not fight others’ battles by believing and joining in on “viral” opinions and perceptions. If it’s up close and personal for the ones attacking others, and up close and personal for the “victims,” it must be up close and personal for the individual third party-reader/listener to Fake News to determine and discern what is objectively true, and what is subjective and colored by personal motivations.

In the end, each and every one must have to live and survive in the Real World, not in the Fake World of Fake News.


Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.