CEBU

Seares: Ressa and Uson cases: blurred line between a mistake and a lie

Medias Public

[1] MARIA Ressa, founder and chief executive officer of the digital website Rappler, last May 7 was interviewed live on ABC News Australia's "Beverly of the World" about the closure of ABS-CBN.

And Ressa said: "This is a network that had 11 million employees when I was working there, while I headed the news group."

[2] Mocha Uson, deputy administrator of Owwa or Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and a blogger, credited in a Facebook post the government for distributing PPE or personal protective equipment, when they were in fact donated by SM Foundation, a private group.

Journalist, propagandist

Ressa is a journalist who is recognized internationally as Time Magazine's one of the 2019 Influential People and one of its 2018 Persons of the Year. She has been arrested and released on bail multiple times.

Uson is a propagandist who uses her social media platform to defend the administration that hires her. She has been in and out of scrapes for her behavior in social media, which she hasn't given up despite her being a public official.

Both have been mired in controversy, center stage and up front. Ressa, for alleged violations of corporate law and journalism standards by her media outlet. Uson, for alleged violations of code of ethics for government officials and employees.

Commonality: fake news

Not surprisingly, each is accused of spreading fake news: for the critical articles in Ressa's Rappler and for the "false" pieces of information in Uson's blog. By sheer number of published materials that were fact-checked and exposed as bogus, Uson could take hands down the title of "Fake News Queen."

In the most recent incidents that spotlight the two controversy-wrapped Filipinas, who made a mistake and who lied?

Uson is facing an NBI investigation for spreading fake news under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. which carries a two-month jail term or fine of P10,000 to P1 million.

Ressa is not being called to any inquiry. She already apologized publicly for her error. Yet she faced the same "fake news" accusation in the bar of public opinion.

Ammunition to critics

Expectedly, Ressa's mistake was seized as ammunition by non-sympathizers: one post bannered her slip as "11 Million Lies"; a tweet said, "Pinnochia-ng-ina, young 11K nga malaking kalukohan na, nagging 11 million pa, and she calls herself a journalist."

Ressa erred, she slipped. ABS-CBN employees could not be 11 million, a number that is even called by network critics as bloated.

ABS-CBN earlier said 5,918 are direct employees while 11,071 compose the whole ABS-CBN Group. Of the 5,918, only 2,661 (as of 2019), are regular employees; the rest are seasonal workers, independent contractors, on-camera talents and project employees. But the 11,000 figure has stuck. Ressa used it in the interview but tacked on the "million" instead of "thousand."

Intent, purpose

Ressa couldn't have intended to mislead her audience with an outright lie. A seasoned journalist and public speaker, she must know that any false claim could be quickly exposed. It would be sheer stupidity if she had done it deliberately. The high number was patently unbelievable and in the context of question and answer, she was not kidding. Her other lapse of wit was that she didn't notice it at once and corrected it right there or immediately afterwards.

In contrast, Uson has had brushes with charges of using false information in her blog. Thus, the public reaction was quick condemnation of "she's done it again." If she is not disturbed by the attacks on her person, it must be because her work is mostly propaganda, that is, to sway the readers to her side or cause. Verifying the facts is the work of a journalist and, Uson once told a Senate committee hearing on a "fake-news" bill. when her practice and techniques were questioned, "I am not a journalist." Journalism standards do not apply to her.

Lie or error

A lie is conscious and deliberate, aimed for a purpose: to persuade and convince the listener. An error is a slip of the tongue or lapse of the mind, at times even unnoticed until the statement comes out or someone else calls it out.

Journalism has a system of review that goes over the material before it is printed, posted or aired. With the increasing speed in travel of content from writer or reporter to media consumer, mistakes are often made. But these are corrected promptly; the same technology that accelerates production also enables fast revision.

Ressa was not the journalist when interviewed; she was the source. If she were writing for Rappler, the system of review would've been at work. The Australian interviewer, the journalist in that frame of time, didn't notice the blatantly wrong figure; was she listening to Ressa's answer as a good interviewer should?

Uson either knew the fact about the PPE or she did not. Knowledge here is crucial to assess liability, since she is not just a propagandist, she is also a government official supposedly tethered to public employees code of ethics and conduct.

Bad for journalism

Being the prominent protagonists in the battle between the administration and its critics, both Ressa and Uson would hardly get kind and fair treatment from each other's opposing camp.

As to journalism, this is bad for reporters and editors when honest mistakes in presenting the news are rashly branded as false and ill-intentioned. They can only make harder efforts at accuracy and fairness so as not to be lumped with propagandists.


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