Thursday, June 20, 2019

Seares: Story about Patalinjug press-con is true. What’s disputed is what he said

WAS the story “fake news”? Run in several media platforms, the story reported Friday, March 29, the claim of Rolando Patalinjug, candidate for Lapu-Lapu City mayor, that one of his rivals, Junard “Ahong” Chan, was disqualified by the Comelec for filing the wrong form of COC, or certificate of candidacy.

The Chan camp called the story “fake news.” It was not. If the copy of the document turns out to be spurious, “made in Quiapo,” as an Ahong’s sympathizer called it, what was false was what Patalinjug said, not what media reported.

Ahong’s staff and supporters insist that Patalinjug lied about a list that supposedly includes Chan among the candidates for the May 13, 2019 elections whose COCs were invalidated by Comelec.

If Patalinjug indeed made a false claim, the fake news was what he alleged, not the news reports that he did so. He in fact called a press-con and made the allegation against Ahong there.

Audio and video records attest to that.


The distinction is crucial to what media does. News sources and readers must know what is real and what is false.

If a congressman delivers a privilege speech saying that another House member stole public funds and the charge turns out to be false, the media story reporting it is not “fake news.”

Such news reports are important for the persons concerned and the public to assess which are true and which are lies. Lies are shot down, distorted facts are threshed out in the news media.

Patalinjug’s claim was publicized by the news about his press-con. Through it, the process of getting at the truth has been started.

Messenger, message

People, particularly media consumers, must be perceptive enough to distinguish (a) the media that reports an allegation from (b) the politician who makes the allegation, however it turns out.

Or, as the classic metaphor has it, between the messenger and the sender of the message.


Could Patalinjug allegation pass the ‘Smell’ test?

Despite claims of fact-checking before using a story, few newsrooms have the people and the time to make rigorous verification, especially on stories that could have a major impact on election results in a locality.

It is doubtful if local news media outlets waited for confirmation from Comelec Manila about the purported list of disqualified candidates, which allegedly included Ahong Chan.

One or two did carry the information that the local Comelec had not received such list. The allegation was made at a public forum; a responsible person raised it; it was newsworthy: thus media outlets and sites ran it.

With limited resources, community news media are hard-pressed more than ever to multi-task: the reporter and his editor are required to have built-in mechanism for fact-checking a story, some kind of b.s. detector.

John McManus, who had a master’s degree in journalism at Michigan University and a PhD in communications at Stanford, some time ago developed the “Smell” test for determining whether an information is valid. (His latest book: “Don’t be fooled: A citizen’s guide to news and information in the digital age”) The test helps the reporter and news editor discern reliable or false information. If applied to Patalinjug’s claim, it will be something like this:

n SOURCE. Where did it come from? Patalinjug showed a copy of the supposed Comelec order that he got in November. He didn’t say how and from whom. It was a xerox copy and thus could be easily fabricated or tampered. Other than himself, who would confirm its existence and validity?

n MOTIVE. With the political campaign and coming from a rival candidate, the information clearly displays the motive. Which should give more reason to tell the reader as much detail as necessary to alert him on the nature of the story.

n EVIDENCE. How did Patalinjug back up his claim?

Is there “factual support” in the information he gave?

n LOGICAL. Does it make sense? If the document is authentic, why was it not publicized, as the Comelec ruling banning bets for senator was released to media? Why was Chan not notified about the supposed defective COC that he filed?

n LEFT OUT. What was Patalinjug not telling media? Obviously, it was only one side that he gave, his.

Journ students are instructed what to ask every time new information is given. Veteran reporters improve on taught skill at “smelling” what’s wrong and, with the editor’s help, put red flags in the story to alert the reader and, in the next news cycles, check out its truth or falsehood.


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