PHILIPPINES News Agency (PNA) last May 27 ran on its web page a news story with the heading “Urban Warfare: A Challenge for Soldiers in Mindanao.” An uncaptioned photo of a soldier, which readers assumed was taken in Marawi City, turned out to be an image from the 1955-1975 Vietnam war.
Mocha Uson, new sp. secretary of Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO), shared on May 29 a photo with a call for prayer for the safety of Filipino soldiers. Those in the photo were neither soldiers nor Filipinos. They were Honduras police kneeling and praying for an end to the violence in their country.
It was not the sole blooper by PNA. Before that, it ran a story about countries that purportedly didn’t believe a human rights crisis existed in the Philippines. The public official to which it was sourced complained of errors in the story. In a story about a beheading in Mindanao, PNA also identified the wrong victim who said he was still alive.
Mocha Uson must have her share of brickbats from those who disagree with her. As a controversial blogger defending President Duterte, she has had verbal clashes with her online critics. Although she also used in August last year a wrong photo of a rape victim, this is the first time she’s called out for an error committed as a government official. Unlike before when she was a private citizen, she may now be reproached for “unprofessional and unethical” conduct.
More effort, care
Malacañang’s press office, called PCOO since president Noynoy Aquino’s term, has had collisions with media on information it releases.
But in today’s media environment -- with the speed and ease anyone can react to news -- and propensity to label any inaccuracy as “fake news,” the work of government communicators is examined more closely.
Which is how it should be: more effort and care to pass on correct information.
Mainstream media commits similar, even worse, errors. Not just mistakes of fact and violations of grammar and syntax: all sorts, from “small” bloopers on date of issue and email address to the “biggies” such as wrong photos of persons or places and wrong story under a wrong heading. Name the error or the newspaper section, newspapers have “been there, done that.” An editor once wondered, “Is there any kind of mistake we still haven’t made?”
Newspapers run, or used to run, error boxes admitting mistakes and making corrections. There are explanations, if one would sound plausible, but a newspaper cannot keep using “computer glitch” as excuse. “Human error” would be more honest but the reader must wish for more zeal instead.
PNA, through PCOO, apologized and people recall that last year the communications office promised “new vetting processes” and “layers of screening to ensure accuracy of information.” But Uson was “defensive,” trying to wiggle out of it, insisting the photo was just for symbolism. Maybe but a caption should’ve correctly identified the police. PNA and Uson were passing out news, not fiction.
Watching out for serious errors, be it in private media or government information apparatus, needs to be encouraged. Disinformation must be exposed and corrected.
But it’s wrong to impute ill motive to every error, be it in newspapers and broadcast station, or by PNA or PCOO. Did PNA and Uson intend to deceive people with the wrong use of photos? Someone somewhere in the line goofed. Unless the mistakes become serial and a pattern of deceit emerges, it’s rash to call them less than honest.
A union of journalists suspects that something evil lurked in the errors. Maybe not. The embarrassment of exposure should be a strong deterrent.
But the noise is doing something good. Most consumers don’t want fakery in news from whatever media. And the uproar may improve future behavior of the information peddlers.
Trump’s incoherent tweet: How Spicer explained it
The most logical explanation was that U.S. President Trump didn’t finish a tweet about media coverage: “Despite the constant negative covfefe...” He must have intended “coverage”: it fits in.
The message remained uncorrected for hours before it was taken down. Trump covered up his blooper by egging people, “Who can figure out what covfefe meant? Enjoy!”
His press secretary, Sean Spicer, seriously intoned at his White House briefing: “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”
Rubbish? Rubbish, a congressman said, Trump was groggy and fell asleep in mid-tweet. “Covfefe,” a senator quipped, “is Yiddish for I gotta go to bed.” Or, more plausibly, it’s something a drunk friend would text you at dawn and you can’t figure out what.