CBCP blasts fake news as Villanueva files bill to punish its spread, De Lima urges probe of PNA

June 22, 2017 - 9:05 AM
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A screenshot showing InterAksyon's report on PNA's erroneous story on the Universal Periodic Review of the country's human rights record.

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED – 9:50 a.m.) Catholic bishops railed against fake news, urging the faithful to “rebut and refute falsehood,” as a senator filed a bill seeking to punish its “malicious creation and distribution.”

“The Christian cannot be part of falsehood, deceit and lies,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in a “pastoral exhortation against fake news” dated June 21 and signed by its president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.

On the other hand, Senate Bill No. 1492, or “An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations,” authored by Senator Joel Villanueva, would penalize the “malicious creation and distribution of false news” intended to “cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation,” with a fine of P100,000 to P5 million and a jail term of one to five years.

“If the offender is a public official, he or she will be made to pay twice the said amount of fine, and twice the period of imprisonment; and absolute disqualification from holding any public office,” a statement from Villanueva said.

WATCH THE NEWS5 REPORT ON VILLANUEVA’S BILL:

In a related development, Senator Leila de Lima called for state-run Philippine News Agency to “be held accountable for disseminating fake news that claim that 95 out of 105 nations agree there were no extrajudicial killings in the country.”

In Senate Resolution No. 405, she urged the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media to look into PNA’s recent lapses with the aim of enabling it “to be a more independent and responsible state-run news agency.”

PNA came under fire for posting a report falsely claiming that 95 United Nations member-states had agreed that no extrajudicial killings had been committed in the administration’s war on drugs during the Universal Periodic Review of the country’s human rights record.

In its statement, the CBCP said, “Crucial decisions — personal and social — depend on the accurate grasp of facts,” and noted that “‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ engender faulty decisions many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities.”

“Sadly, we see this happening today. There are persons who have given themselves to the service of reporting what never happened, concealing what really happened, and distorting what should be presented in a straightforward manner,” it added.

The CBCP said Catholics are obliged to do the following:

  1. To refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of “alternative facts” or “fake news”.
  2. To rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data.
  3. To refuse to be themselves purveyors of fake news and to desist from disseminating this whether on social media or by word of mouth or through any other form of public expression.
  4. To identify the sources of fake news so that our brothers and sisters may be duly alerted and may know which media and which sites to shun.

Villanueva, in his statement, noted “recent events where numerous fake social media accounts were created to spread false news.”

His measure also seeks to punish those who “have aided and encouraged the malicious creation and distribution of fake news” with fines of from P50,000 to P3 million and jail terms of six months to three years.

The penalty is even harsher for “any mass media enterprise or social media platform that fails, neglects, or refuses to remove false news” — a fine of P1 million to P20 million and a jail term of 10 to 20 years.

“The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly. Fake news creates impression and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations,” Villanueva said in the statement.

In noting that “public officials must take the moral high ground instead of being the ones to spread false information coming from fake news sites,” Villanueva cited Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who, his statement said, “made false claims wherein he implicated some opposition lawmakers in the conflict in Marawi City.”

He also noted the probe ordered by Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Ano on the complaint against soldiers who posted derogatory comments on a fake news posting.

“The recent events involving our public officials who failed to validate information that resulted to the spread of false information make matters worse,” Villanueva said. “The proliferation of fake news should not be tolerated especially when the public interest is at stake. This is why we want stiffer penalties for erring public officials.”

BELOW IS THE FULL STATEMENT OF THE CBCP:

CONSECRATE THEM IN THE TRUTH

A Pastoral Exhortation Against Fake News

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

A key dimension of Jesus’ mission was to preach the truth, and in His high priestly prayer, He prayed that His disciples might be consecrated in the truth.  We, the Filipino nation, are part of the community of disciples for whom He prayed.  At his trial, the question of truth figured prominently.  “What is truth?” asked a bewildered Pilate, because he failed to recognize in Jesus, THE TRUTH!

So it is that the Christian cannot be part of falsehood, deceit and lies.  A fact is anything that is or that happens.  If one man kills another, it cannot but be a fact that the deed was done, and any “alternative fact” that would have it so that no killing was done is simply false, and, when meant to deceive, a lie!

The duty to speak the truth is so elemental a demand of morality and of good social order that it can hardly be reduced to more elementary precepts.  It is almost as fundamental as the first principle of all morality: “Do good; avoid evil.”  Human life would be impossible in a society where we constantly and habitually deceived each other.

Crucial decisions — personal and social — depend on the accurate grasp of facts.  “Alternative facts” and “fake news” engender faulty decisions many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities. Sadly, we see this happening today. There are persons who have given themselves to the service of reporting what never happened, concealing what really happened, and distorting what should be presented in a straightforward manner.

The active involvement of citizens in creating a nurturing society steeped in justice depends on the truth. That is the service to which media is called. That is why we have schools and colleges and universities. That is why teaching is a noble profession. That is why books and magazines, journals and articles are published.

But social media which, initially, promised to democratize expression and free the dissemination of truth from the clutches of moneyed entrepreneurs financing mainstream media has become the unfortunate site of “alternative facts” and “fake news”. Not only does this offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth. It is, more fundamentally, a sin against charity because it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones!

Our Catholic faith obliges us:

  1. To refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of “alternative facts” or “fake news”.
  2. To rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data.
  3. To refuse to be themselves purveyors of fake news and to desist from disseminating this whether on social media or by word of mouth or through any other form of public expression.
  4. To identify the sources of fake news so that our brothers and sisters may be duly alerted and may know which media and which sites to shun.

We your bishops join the Lord Jesus in His prayer that we all be consecrated in the truth, because the Word of the Lord is truth!

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, June 21, 2017

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP