February 25, 2018, 9:57 am
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Southeast Asia coalition tackles fake news problem

FAKE news, which has been picked by Collins Dictionary as Word of the Year 2017, has shaped the mind of people and has been blamed for shocking upsets like the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

In the Philippines, the camp of then candidate Rodrigo Duterte tapped the online voters successfully. The first 17 months of his administration has seen a proliferation of fake news coming from government sources. The President himself has been a prolific source of fake news.

As defined by Collins Dictionary, fake news is false news stories, often of a sensational nature, created to be widely shared online for the purpose of generating ad revenue via web traffic or discrediting a public figure, political movement, company, etc.

My simple definition of fake news is “a lie masquerading as truth.” It’s actually an oxymoron because one of the attributes of news is truthfulness. How can something that is true be fake?

But that’s how things go in this age fueled by the internet and social media.

Last Friday, the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition- Southeast Asia (AFEC-SEA), Center Law and American Bar Association- Rule of Law Initiative gathered lawyers, journalists and online activists from Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to discuss the situation as regards the rise of fake news with the objective of forging a Southeast Asian response.

What I have gathered from the sharing of experiences last Friday was, existing laws and practices in most countries in the region undermine freedom of expression.

I shared the Philippine experience and the efforts being done by our group, VERA Files, to counter fake news.

There are two bills pending in Congress to stop the proliferation of fake news. In the Senate, there’s S.B. 1492 by Senator Joel Villanueva “Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and other Related Violations.”

In the House of Representatives, there’s House Bill No. 6022 by Luis Raymond “Lay” Villafuerte, Jr. titled “An Act Prohibiting the creation and distribution of False News.”

Both bills lean heavily on the “messenger” rather than the source of the fake news.

My position is there are enough laws to check on irresponsible and abusive media. We have the recently amended, Revised Penal Code, which has a provision that “Any person who by means of printing lithography, or any other means of publication shall publish 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.” (Article 154 of the Code)

The RPC also has a provision on libel defined as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

There’s also the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, increases the penalty for computer-related libel, with the minimum punishment raised twelve-fold, from six months to six years. The maximum punishment is doubled from six to twelve years in prison.

Besides, as former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said during a Senate hearing last month, “the problem is not private citizens—Facebook or Twitter activists—exposing government incompetence, dishonesty, or corruption. The problem is government dishonesty.”

He further said:

“Fake information provided by public officials poses special problems—

1) They are paid with public funds. It is an outrage that they receive taxpayers’ money so they can lie.
2) Their official status provides imprimatur to false information, whether posted in private or official social media accounts.
3) Their public employment provides them access to government facilities, creating a semblance of credibility where otherwise there would be none.
4) Their access to government facilities means that the false information they provide gets widely distributed.”

More on the Forum next Thursday.

***

Blog: www.ellentordesillas.com
E-mail: ellentordesillas@gmail.com
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