MANILA, Philippines – Journalists on Monday “questioned” and “protested” the government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA)’s publication of two alleged “fake news,” asking the communications team of the Duterte administration if its mandate included spreading lies.
“We do understand the need for PNA and other state-affiliated outfits to project as strongly as possible the government’s side on current issues and controversies. But does this include peddling falsehoods?” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) told Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar and the PNA team in a letter.
“Our concern over the use of PNA to legitimize fake news also stems from the possible implications this poses on the professional reputations and yes, the safety of our many upright colleagues who work for the venerable news agency and continue, despite the challenges they face, to keep it reputable and worthy of people’s trust,” the NUJP added.
The media organization was pertaining to two similar articles that the PNA uploaded on its website. The first one was titled “95 nations in 3rd UPR convinced no EJKs in PHL,” published on May 15. The second, published on May 20, was titled “PHL’s human rights situation commended at UPR.”
The two articles in question were based on the statements of Department of Interior and Local Government Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing during a press conference on May 15 in connection with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 members of the UN.
In the first version of the article, the PNA reported that 95 countries in the UPR were convinced that there were no extra-judicial killings in the country. Meanwhile, the second version said the 95 countries in the UPR instead praised the Philippines for its improved human rights situation.
In the letter, NUJP questioned how Densing’s statements were “reported so uncritically.”
“While we do not question your editorial prerogatives and do understand that you face certain limitations as a government-run news service, we do wonder how Mr. Densing’s comments, which apparently run counter to all other accounts of the positions the participant-countries to the UPR actually registered, could have been reported so uncritically,” the group said.
NUJP also noted the slight rewriting of the second article as an attempt to slightly shift the focus from the first article, which the media group described as “fake.”
“Worse, these were reported not once but twice, with slight rewriting in the second version, as witness below, in an apparent (to our mind) attempt at slightly shifting the focus from that of the first article, which was so obviously – we are sorry but there is no other term applicable – fake from the get-go,” they said.
NUJP then cited the database of UPR recommendations prepared by the non-governmental organization UPR Info in their website, which countered Densing’s statements regarding the positions of the countries as reported by PNA.
The media group also expressed concerns as the first PNA story had already been picked up by fake news sites to smear earlier reports of mainstream media outfits regarding the results of the recent UPR of the Philippines.
“It has not helped that the first PNA story has already been picked up and exploited by fake news sites, which peddle Densing’s canard to counter the international concern over the current human rights situation in the country and to further smear mainstream media outfits that have reported accurately on the REAL position of the countries that attended the UPR.”
NUJP also said it expected the news agency to answer their inquiries regarding the matter.
“As a media organization and as citizens of this Republic, we demand and expect an answer from a news agency funded by our taxes and which we, therefore, technically own,” the group said.