I attentively followed the Senate hearing on “fake news” chaired by Senator Grace Poe although I missed the last part when Senator Antonio Trillanes arrived. I caught myself shaking my head many times during the hearing.
I thought that Poe, as chair, could have handled the hearing better. She did a much better job in previous ones, which made people appreciate her better. In this particular hearing though, she seemed to lack focus. There were many times when other senators, particularly Sotto and Pacquiao, appeared to be running the hearing. Even some resource persons were just bantering with other senators without addressing the chair.
Senator Poe could have controlled the proceedings better, including her own comments about her guests and the suddenly controversial Cocoy Dayao. At one point she praised RJ Nieto without knowing that the guy at best, gave them incomplete information about his engagements with government, and other issues he talked about. In contrast, I thought she was already judging Dayao without the benefit of hearing his side.
The dominance of Sotto and Pacquiao together with the resource persons who were obviously “friendly” with them made it appear that the hearing was lopsidedly favoring the administration side. While all the resource persons were given the chance to speak, it was plain to see who were dominating the discussion. These happened because the chair lacked control of the hearing.
It is no secret that I went for Poe during the last elections and I do not regret it. However, it will be better to see her in control of the next hearing.
Journalist Ellen Tordesillas was correct in saying that the term “fake news” is an oxymoron. News cannot be fake because if it is untrue, it is not news. News is factual, it does not invent, it does not twist information. Thus, there should be a better term to use than “fake news.”
“Disinformation” was suggested, another journalist friend, Barnaby Lo said on Twitter that it should instead be called “propaganda.” I like the latter better because it implies an agenda, political agenda to be precise. Political observers know that propaganda has existed since the inception of politics. There is always a need to make politicians popular, look and sound better. People (voters), must see them in a good light.
Thus, people are hired to achieve this. They highlight their politicians’ strengths, and hide their weaknesses. On the other hand, opponents are hit, criticized, and yes, at times, issues against them are invented to destroy their credibility. This is called black propaganda.
Thus, what we now call “fake news” is not new. These have been here for a long time, employed by politicians and/or their handlers. What is new is the fact that social media is now used for this. Faking news is made easier by social media and other technology like photoshop and other editing applications.
The last Senate hearing happened because seven senators were severely criticized on social media for not signing a resolution calling for an end to killings associated with the administration’s “war on drugs.”
They want to find out who are behind the wave of criticisms. This actually proves that people’s pressure and demands for accountability can rattle and make the powerful senators defensive. This is another instance when social media was used by people to make those in position notice people’s displeasure. Sure, they want to punish those who instigated the backlash but it also showed them public disapproval of their inaction. Nothing would have come out of criticisms by a few. It caught fire because people felt similarly against them.
It is kind of funny that administration senators would call for such hearing to vindicate themselves, and invite “bloggers” who are known to be themselves purveyors of what they call “fake news” as their resource persons. It is doubly funny and irritating at the same time when these resource persons position themselves as victims.
Another thing that was shown by the hearing is how “bloggers” are paid by government. They are put in positions with unclear qualifications and credentials except for the fact that they have big social media following. They are considered “influentials” and this influence is what the administration needs. Thus, although arrogantly said, Nieto might be correct in saying that this government needs him more than he needs government. Both Mocha Uson and Nieto were quick to defend their social media posts as their personal opinions in the exercise of their freedom of expression. There is a clear conflict of interest here and this must be settled. After all, the money used to pay them is people’s money.
Several people in the hearing wanted to define fake news. According to them, it will be good to put a handle on what was being discussed. People from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said that they are developing “standards” for use of social media. At least one Senator, Joel Villanueva wants a law against “fake news.” Taking all these together, one cannot help but think that those in positions of power could very well be talking about censorship. And this kind of censorship is against their critics, not their allies, who, with the backing of the administration, would still be free to peddle half-truths, even outright lies favoring those in power.
This is a slippery slope because this is actually about our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression. This is what the public must defend. Lawmakers cannot and should not play with this. While I agree that rights are not absolute and freedoms cannot be without responsibility, we already have more than enough laws to ensure that no abuse will go without being punished. We just need to properly implement these laws.
Social media is just a platform. How it is used should follow existing laws. Faking news is something that been done before. It is nothing new. What is more important is for people to know how to deal with it. Curtailing rights is not the way to deal with it.
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