No need to enact new laws to combat fake news

GOVERNMENT officials and journalists on Tuesday, January 30, said there is no need to enact new laws to combat disinformation and misinformation.

Communication Secretary Martin Andanar, who heads the Presidential Communication Operation Office, told the Senate committee on public information and mass media that "16 laws can be used to address fake news", including the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

“PCOO has spoken to Asean counterpart for guidelines on how to counter fake news. We have committed mistakes but these were corrected. But the freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” Andanar said.

He acknowledged the proliferation of fake news and condemned those behind the move to spread lies using social media.

He said fake news is a pressing issue that needs immediate action and asked that a larger budget for media and information literacy must be considered.

Journalists Maria Ressa, Rappler chief executive officer, and Roby Alampay, editor-in-chief of Interaksyon and BusinessWorld, agreed that there are sufficient laws to combat fake news.

Implementation of these laws, however, is another story, Ressa said.

National Press Club President Paul Gutierrez, also a columnist from People's Journal, said only in the Philippines that registration of blog sites and websites are not being done.

Dr. Clarisse David from the University of the Philippines said misinformation and misinterpreted facts are not all political news.

She said all kinds of disinformation promoting lies to deceive people and promote propaganda should be considered part of the crime.

The controversy over fake news erupted last year after a number of senators cried foul over a blog that called seven of them - Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, Sen. Richard Gordon, Sen. Cynthia Villar and Sen. Miguel Zubiri - as Malacañang dogs for failing to sign Senate Resolution no. 516 which urges the government to stop the spate of killings, especially of minors.

“There should be accountability for those who sounds happy spreading lies. Hindi pwede na walang remorse and tao pagkatapos mong sirain yung pangalan niya. Dapat siguro mayroon talaga tamang batas para sa ganitong pang aabuso,” Pacquiao said.

He urged the committee to issue a subpoena for blogger Cocoy Dayao and representatives of Facebook and Google to hear their views on the issue of fake news.

Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the public information committee, supported Pacquiao's view.

She said bloggers who have the nerve to express their views hitting people below the belt must also have the guts to show their face.

Poe said it is high time that bloggers and journalists are educated on ethics as well as the possibility of proper government regulations for Facebook and Google that will include accountability.

Poe, who described herself as a victim of fake news and hate campaign during the last elections, expressed sadness that technology is now being used and abused by knowledgeable people to spread lies.

In her opening statement, she said “truth has become such a valuable and important commodity, that it is immediately surrounded by bodyguard of lies.”

“The use of social media bots undermine our democracy. You cannot just attack a person without basis and hide behind the skirt of free expression,” Poe said.

“Government regulation that borders on intimidation and harassment of journalists is another means of suppressing the truth,” she added.

Ressa noted that 97 percent of Filipinos are Facebook users.

She said she has been victimized by haters.

“I received an average of 90 hate messages per hour. We call this patriotic trolling sponsored by the government. When people don’t know what is real and what is fake, when facts don’t matter then the voice with the loudest megaphone gains more power,” Ressa said during the hearing. (PS Jun Sarmiento/SunStar Philippines)
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