FOCUS ON FAKE NEWS | Watch: Sen. Grace Poe’s opening, closing statements at Senate inquiry

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Sen. Grace Poe presides at the first hearing on fake news of the Committee on Public Information. PHILSTAR PHOTO BY GEREMY PINTOLO

MANILA – (UPDATED, 4:32 p.m) Sen. Grace Poe concluded the first hearing Wednesday by her Public Information committee on so-called “fake news” by saying “disinformation should not have a place in our society” but at the same time, freedom of speech should not be curtailed.

She suspended the inquiry to allow for the holding of at least one more hearing where, she hoped, blogger Cocoy Dayao – tagged by some quarters as the man responsible for the #SilentNoMore blog – would appear and explain his side. All invitees except Dayao had appeared at the Senate.

The #SilentNoMore recently attacked seven majority senators over a Senate resolution condemning extra-judicial killings, especially of minors. This sparked a backlash from senators, led by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who said their were libeled on the basis of a wrong assertion. They said they did not refuse to sign the resolution but were never shown it or asked to sign it.

Below is Poe’s opening statement setting the tone for an inquiry seen tackling a lot of uncharted territory and novel issues on freedom of expression, the right to know and the media:

This meeting of Public Information shall now come to order.

I am sure that many of us begin the day the same way and end it: by checking our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.

We check our FB text notifications before we check on our loved ones. And at night, instead of sharing stories over dinner, we share jokes on the family Viber group.

If these have become our daily routine, then most likely we’ve been waking up to and going to bed with news, some fake, mostly real, I think.

Someone once said that if it’s fake, it isn’t news—it’s propaganda, misrepresentation, misinformation, or to put it more bluntly, outright lies. So I think that first, we should differentiate news from opinion.

The term “news” is defined as a “report of recent events”. Opinion, on the other hand, is a “view or judgment formed about something that is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

Currently, the term “fake news” as used by the public, means a wide array of things—from false reports to propaganda and to true reports that have been spun out of proportion.

This nation is churning out fake news in an industrial scale that it seems that while manufacturing is down, fake news factories are booming. And that while agriculture output is low, that of troll farms is high.

Fake news has become so pervasive through the use of bots and trolls and these fake accounts are able sway public opinion, shape civic discourse, affect social interaction and influence government.

It is not only in politics that fake news is blurring the truth and deepening the divide, it has encroached in other fields as well. Fake news is the e-version of the budol-budol, which many of our people unable to distinguish fact from fiction fall victims to. It is not even farfetched that in the, future fake news can trigger wars.

Alam nyo mga kababayan, this internet is important to us. But it is also has its weaknesses which fake news has exploited.

The internet paradox

First, broadband should have made us broadminded, but thanks to fake news it has kept many of us imprisoned in our own narrow political beliefs.

Hindi nga ba internet is deemed to be an instrument for “liberation technology,” but now it is being used somehow to enslave people to a certain dogma.

Kaya nga ang sabi nila “fake news is in the eye of the beholder” who determines it through his colored lenses – dilaw, pula, o asul. Yan, mga kababayan ko ang resulta ng ating color-coded politics. Imbes alamin kung magaling ang isang ideya, ang unang tanong kaagad ay kung saang kampo galing yan.

Second, while the internet also promotes connectivity, it has sadly been used to erect firewalls within and among us that prevent dialogue dahil maraming natatakot baka ma-bully.

And when conversation does not happen, the forging of consensus so essential for democracy is affected.

Kaya nga hindi lang usaping legal, or political ang pagsusuri ng fake news phenomenon. Dapat din pag-aralan ang sociological impact nito.

Has fake news doomed civilized debate, turning it into shouting matches, dividing families and friends?

Has fake news created a cynical citizenry, distrustful of authority, and even our very institutions?

Has it embroiled us in a permanent state of cyberwar?

We also have to ask that while it is the role of each individual to vet sources and check facts, what is the role of the government in addressing the lack of news literacy? Should news literacy be required by schools? In Taiwan, schoolkids are now being taught media literacy in an effort to help them identify news from hoaxes.

Bagamat madali tayong magalit sa fake news, hindi madaling solusyonan ito. There are free speech considerations.

Media opposition to the government is not new. In fact, media is nicknamed the Fourth Estate or the Fourth Branch of government, because it is expected to perform the role of a watch dog; it is expected to provide a check against the abuses of the other branches of the state. A blogger should also not be penalized for his views.

But just how far can journalists or ordinary individuals go in speaking against the government?

Paano mo ituturo ang online do’s and don’ts sa mahigit 100 milyong tao?

First, how far before free speech can be called libel?

The law as it stands

Today, under Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act., libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, is committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future, is considered a cybercrime offense.

The Penal Code, libel is committed when a person makes, against another, a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

In several cases, the Supreme Court held that for libel to hold water in the case of public officials or public figures, the “higher standard of actual malice” must be satisfied to attain conviction. Actual malice or malice in fact is committed “when the offender makes the defamatory statement that the knowledge that it is false or with reckless disregard of whether it is false or not.” In proving actual malice, the burden of proof lies with the offended party.

Second, when people in authority habitually employ alternative facts that it fuels the fake news phenomenon, can they be held liable?

The phenomenon of junk news and its dissemination over social media platforms have transformed (some say destroyed) political debates.

It is important to ask these questions because unlawful means of publication and unlawful utterances is already penalized by Article 154[1] of the Penal Code.

Under our law, any person who printed, published or cause to be published as news any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State shall be punished. The same applies for any person who by the same means, or by words, utterances or speeches shall encourage disobedience to the law or to the constituted authorities or praise, justify, or extol any act punished by law.

Alam nyo po , nung pumasok ako sa pulitika ang sabi ko minoisturize ko na ang balat ko ng Teflon para hindi tumalab sa akin ang anumang puna.

Sabi ko sa sarili ko “The politician who complains against criticism is like a ship captain who complains about the sea.“ In short, par for the course.

Nang nagsimula ang online bashing, lalo na nung nakaraang halalan, ang sabi ko sa sarili ko , “The price of incumbency is eternal bashing .”

Pero lately napapansin ko kailangan nang may pushback sa mga maling balita, kasi apektado na ang ating demokrasya.

Culture of lying

If unchecked, fake news cultivates a culture of lying. If purveyors are allowed to get away with their lies, they embolden government officials to also lie in order to escape accountability, crush dissent, and commit illegal acts with impunity.

If fake news is not challenged, it will create lynch mobs out of certain people, turning them into an army of character assassins, who can be unleashed, with just one meme, to destroy an idea, a person, or an institution.

At merong panganib din na ang maling online behavior ay siyang maging asta natin sa totoong buhay. Kung hahayaan natin yan, baka lumaki ang mga bata ngayon na intolerant sa pananaw ng iba, at madaling maniwala sa haka-haka.

We need to expose them to a kind of conversation that educates and enlightens, that relies on the truth, and not the kind that disrespect facts.

We need to teach them that that they can disagree without being disagreeable, that when arguing they should focus on substance and never on slurs.

In this hearing we will try to address these issues and more. If we want to regulate news, are we technologically capable of doing that? Will legislation possibly create a “chilling effect” on all of us?

In the same manner that we are considering punishing individual purveyors of fake news, shouldn’t we also hold public officials who release wrong and misleading information accountable?

Transcript of Sen. Grace Poe’s Closing Statement

Kung gigising ka nga ng alas-kwatro ng madaling araw upang makarating sa opisina ng alas-otso, at alas nuebe na ng gabi nasa kalsada ka pa, pawis, gutom, inaantok sa isang bus na hindi gumagalaw sa traffic, or ang MRT na nasisira at ang consuelo mo lang ay may “free WiFi on board”, wala ka na sigurong gagawin kundi ilabas ang iyong sama ng loob. It’s a reflection of what people feel now. People are outraged because of their situation and they express it through social media.

Now we are saying, ‘yes you can express yourself but be accountable.’

Fake news has preyed on the desperate, deceived the gullible, and swindled the naive.

The combination of automation and propaganda, also called computational propaganda, allegedly has transformed, if not destroyed, political debates.

Kapag tumatanggap ka na ng sahod mula sa pera ng taumbayan, hindi ka na naiiba sa ibang government officials and employees and therefore should be more circumspect and should therefore exercise prudence in sharing articles that instigate division among the populace. You are bound by the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, or RA 6713.

But it’s not just proprietary or following the law. We should remember how much influence we have in our fingertips na talagang pinapanood kayo. Kinokopya kayo. Ang mga bata ngayon, Asec. Mocha, mga 10 yrs old at 8 yrs old o 5 yrs old, gusto nila sexy sila.

Dati gusto lang nila maglaro. They are emulating what adults are doing. And I always say, I don’t care what you write as long as it’s not pornographic, it doesn’t incite rebellion or sedition and it’s not libelous. Yun lang tatlo and otherwise you could already. But you have to make certain sacrifices for government officials. As I’ve said, not only am I being bashed by the yellows, I am also being bashed by the reds because I am neither here nor there. But I would like to assure you that I will protect your rights at least to this hearing. And so I cannot, even if I want to, because I know that you’re all very busy. I would like to thank you for being here today. But I am sorry to say that I cannot adjourn this hearing. I will have to suspend it. Because one of the key persons that was mentioned, Mr. Dayao, is not present here today. I would like to give him a chance to also either defend himself or to dispute what we have to say. So dapat maging mapagmatyag ang publiko lalo na ang mga kabataan na laman ng social media sa kanilang nababasa at naibabahagi sa kanilang followers at friends.

Thus, we will consider the creation of a new government institute to check the integrity of government information and police the accuracy of information, if we think it is tenable. Because we don’t want again to add to bureaucracy unless we really need it. Mr. Alampay said it, things can get very untenable that’s why we have to make certain choices and sacrifices. Even if they say, in fact there are tweets and texts to me that said ‘why are people complaining?’ Online is there to check mainstream, mainstream has been accused of being slanted and this is a chance to air out their views.

I agree, but there should also be accountability on the part of bloggers and online writers. Let us not forget the sacrifice of mainstream journalists that have to be accountable and have to really collect materials. May isang nag-text sa akin from GMA7, ‘alam mo napakahaba ng proseso para lang mag-produce ng show. Hindi lang telepono ang kailangan, ipapa-approve mo pa ito, kailangan talaga na balanse ang lahat.’ At least now we’re there to check on each other.

Dati, before President Duterte, kapag ang media ang nagsalita, parang ito na. Pero lumabas kayo (bloggers) and all of a sudden you are checking mainstream media. Mainstream media is checking us. We are checking the government. It’s a cycle, but we just have to fix the imperfections.

I think that if there is one thing agreed upon in this hearing it is this: Misinformation should have no place in today’s democratic society, if we can prevent it. Speech, as long as it is not libelous, seditious or does not incite violence, should not be curtailed or inhibited. I’ll be the first one to speak against that.

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