CBCP to public: Fight 'fake news'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22) — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on the public to stop spreading fake news, saying that crucial personal and social decisions depend on an accurate grasp of facts.

""Alternative facts" and "fake news" engender faulty decisions many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities," CBCP President  Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a June 21 statement.

He also decried how social media, which he said promised to democratize free expression from "the clutches of moneyed entrepreneurs financing mainstream media," has become a hotbed for lies.

"Not only does this offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth," he said. "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!"

Villegas added a Christian cannot be part of falsehood, deceit and lies.

"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!" he said.

He said a key dimension of Jesus' mission was to preach the truth.

The archbishop called on people to:

  1. Refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of "alternative facts" or "fake news"
  2. Rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data
  3. Refuse to be 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. 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

Fake news from government

The CBCP's statement comes weeks after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre alleged in a June 7 press conference that opposition party lawmakers critical of the Duterte administration had a hand in the clashes between government security forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City.

Read: Justice Secretary tags opposition senators to Marawi crisis, Resorts World attack

To support his claim, Aguirre presented a photo of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Party-List Rep. Gary Alejano with Zamboanga del Sur Vice Governor Ace Cerilles, former President Benigno Aquino III's political adviser Ronald Llamas, and former Pampanga Governor Mark Lapid.

However, the photo was later revealed to have been taken in 2015 at the Iloilo airport instead of Marawi City, based on Cerilles' Facebook post that year.

Later that day, Aguirre retracted his remarks, saying he was "misquoted" by media despite video and audio recordings of his original statements. He also apologized to the Alonto and Lucman clans.

Trillanes said on June 7 he has not been in Marawi for the past three years, adding that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the senator was not involved with the Maute group plot.

"The incompetence of Aguirre is only matched by his stupidity," he said in a statement. "I would advise him to avoid getting his intel from Facebook conspiracy theorists."

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called Aguirre a "mean-spirited coward," saying he was lying when he said he was misquoted.

Read: Journalists decry Justice Secretary’s 'misquoted' claim

"We, the media, will not be the scapegoats as you try to weasel your way out of your latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease," the group said in a June 9 statement.

"There was no misquotation," the NUJP added. "Your words were recorded on video and audio. So, no, you are not passing the buck on to reporters who did what they are supposed to do — accurately report your official acts and pronouncements."

Penalizing fake news

The NUJP is likewise standing up against fake news through technology.

Along with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the group launched on June 6 "Fakeblok," a Google Chrome plug-in downloadable from the Chrome store that flags fake news and misinformation on Facebook.

Read: Filipino journalist groups launch fake news blocker

Fake news sites could also be reported through fakeblok.com, upon which a group of independent journalists verify the sites.

In a June 8 statement, Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, called out Aguirre for his "reckless" pronouncements and has pushed for a Senate probe on the issue.

Read: ‘Public officials should be held accountable for fake news’ - sociologist

Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Villanueva, a member of the Senate Committee on Public Information, filed on June 22 a bill seeking to penalize the malicious distribution of fake news.