TWO public officials complained about “fake news” this week:
Vice President Leni Robredo on April 23 called out as “fake news” the item in Rigoberto Tiglao’s column in “Manila Times” that she talked with European Parliament officials during her recent trip to Germany and persuaded them to pass a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines. False, Robredo said, she “never saw or spoke with any E.U. official” while she was abroad.
Presidential Legislative Liaison Adelino Sitoy, through an April 24 press statement of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) which Sitoy heads, said the Rappler news report on consultants the office hired amounted to “spreading fake news.” The news story was based on a COA report, factual and it carried PLLO’s explanation.
Two instances when term “fake news” was used: one, applied to information given by an unnamed source; the other, applied to a news report based on a named source, the Commission on Audit. Tiglao writes for Manila Times, which has print and online editions; Rappler is a digital news site.
Either columnist Tiglao was fed false information, in which case he was “burned,” victim of what people in the trade call “koryente.” Or Tiglao knew or suspected it was false but used it just the same. Whichever, not a good place for Tiglao to find himself in.
Some columnists think that, unlike reporters, they are not obliged to verify facts. At times they omit facts that hurt the opinion they push. Worse if they become propagandists and discard tools of journalists for techniques of propaganda.
Not the first time Tiglao was was accused of using false information in his column. The Rappler story that reported Robredo’s complaint contained this line to describe the columnist: “Tiglao, known for his false claims...” Robredo put it in another way: Tiglao, she said, was “purveyor of fake news.”
Chance to refute
Most newsrooms require their reporter against whom a complaint of factual error is made to comment or explain: to stand by the story or rectify the mistake. Robredo said that Tiglao, who reported news in his column, “instead of admitting fault, emailed my office threatening to print more fake news.”
Tiglao may refute Robredo’s denial and belie her branding him as “purveyor of fake news” by presenting evidence that she did talk with EU officials. As of this writing, he still had not; Robredo’s charge stands un-refuted.
In the PLLO accusation against Rappler, it’s the accuser that can’t show that the news site reported fake news. The source was no less than the COA report.
PLLO threw a slew of charges at Rappler that didn’t fly:
“fake news” (Rappler didn’t fabricate the COA report);
“misleading” (PLLO didn’t say how or why);
“didn’t get PLLO’s side” (Rappler included the office’s explanation to COA);
“Fake news,” it would seem, is confused with inaccuracy and other mistakes in reporting and editing. But on all counts, it appears for now, not one charge of fakery or error will stick.
Not the last
Robredo and PLLO wouldn’t be the last public official and entity to accuse media of “fake news.” Some may use the term imprecisely, as PLLO did, while others may hit the nail on the head, as Robredo did.
Journalists may put up their defense and explain, as Rappler did, or choose to keep quiet in their pulpit, as Tiglao did.
Two different responses to the accusation of fake news. A third could be worse: loudly insisting that one is right even if one is not, repeating the lie again and again, and clinging to it “until hell freezes over.”
‘We have not jailed any reporter.’
PRESIDENTIAL spokesman Harry Roque, commenting on the six-spots slide of the country’s rank (from #127 to #133) in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), says:
“Our record will stand for itself...We have not sent any reporter to jail. The president does not file libel cases...(But) if you make him a punching bag, he will respond...”
Duterte’s tirades, Roque says, are “no threat to press freedom.” Lawsuits yes, but not against reporters, maybe against business owners and managers and on other matters not related to reporting the news.