Senate hearing on fake news cites need for accountability

Font Size

Senator Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes IV questions PCOO Asec. Mocha Uson during a senate hearing on fake news on Oct. 4, 2017. -- SENATE PRB/Joseph Vidal

THE CHAIRPERSON of a Senate committee that conducted a hearing on fake news on Wednesday, Oct. 4, flagged the need for accountability among bloggers, given their influence on news content today, alongside that of traditionally trained journalists.

“There should also be accountability on the part of bloggers and online writers. Let us not forget the sacrifice of mainstream journalists that have to be accountable and have to really collect materials,” said Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, whose hearing was attended by political bloggers as well as veteran journalists.

“The combination of automation and propaganda, also called computational propaganda, allegedly has transformed, if not destroyed, political debates,” the senator noted.

“Kapag tumatanggap ka na ng sahod mula sa pera ng taumbayan, hindi ka na naiiba sa ibang (If you accept a salary from the people’s money, you are no longer different from other) government officials and employees and therefore should be more circumspect and should therefore exercise prudence in sharing articles that instigate division among the populace. You are bound by the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, or RA 6713,” Ms. Poe also said.

For her part, Senator Nancy Binay told Communications Assistant Secretary (Asec) Margaux Uson, one of the resource speakers, “It’s high time for you to decide if you want to be a blogger or an Asec.”

Ms. Uson, who has used her substantial social media following to both support President Rodrigo R. Duterte and attack his critics and other perceived foes, including mainstream media, showed up with fellow officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

Also attending was another pro-administration social media personality, Rey Joseph Nieto, who is behind the blog Thinking Pinoy and is now a consultant of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

During the hearing, Ms. Binay cited Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and said, as government officials, “we cannot use the excuse of doing things in our private capacities.”

“At this point hindi mo puwedeng ihiwalay yung pagiging blogger mo sa pagiging Asec mo (You cannot dissociate your being a blogger from your being an Asec),” Ms. Binay pointed out to Ms. Uson before asking her to decide which she wants to be.

Instead of doing so, Ms. Uson said she was “exercising my right to freedom of expression and speech.”

Earlier, she claimed that she herself had been a victim of fake news and that her side on issues had never been sought. Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV had asked Ms. Uson if she, as a blogger, had ever sought the side of the Senate minority when criticizing them.

“Blogger po ako, hindi po ako journalist,” Ms. Uson replied, implying that she considered blogging held to a lower standard of accountability.

When Mr. Aquino pressed her on the issue, she refused to answer, claiming she had the right to do so and subsequently invoked her right against — at this she stumbled and said, “self-discri . . . ” before saying the correct phrase, “self-incrimination.”

It was pointed out to her that she could only invoke this right if she was accused of committing a crime.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri cut in, cautioning against “embarrassing” resource persons, but Mr. Aquino pointed out that the resolution on which the hearing was based “talks of grievances” and could not, therefore, be limited to the gripes of a few “because we should talk of fake news in general.”

Ms. Poe asked InterAksyon editor-in-chief Roby Alampay for his view and the latter used one word to describe Ms. Uson’s situation: “untenable.”

Ms. Poe asked the private media groups for their policies on allowing employees to maintain private social media accounts while the media outlet has its own official accounts. Mr. Alampay said employees retain their individual freedom of expression in their private accounts, but noted that this policy was easier to define in a private company but not in government, as the situation of Ms. Uson illustrates.

GMA online editor-in-chief Jaemark Tordecilla weighed in and said “the question of resources” needed to be considered. To illustrate, he wondered aloud, “who’s paying for her [Ms. Uson’s] trip” when she, say, posts material on what she calls her personal asset, but the material was derived in the course of her government work. — reports by