Who should be accountable for the spread of fake news?

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 04 2017 08:56 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2017 08:57 PM

Communications Assistant Secretary Margaux "Mocha" Uson listens to Sen. Antonio Trillanes (R) during a Senate hearing on the spread of ’fake news’ on 04 October 2017. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - While they agreed that the spread of fake news must be curbed, media experts and stakeholders on Wednesday had different views on which institution should be held accountable for the proliferation of false information.

The discussion among lawmakers, legal luminaries, journalists, and representatives from media companies took place as the Senate committee on public information and mass media began discussions on proposed legislation against fake news.


Veteran journalist and VERA Files president Ellen Tordesillas told senators that the problem should be cut from its roots - the "source of falsehood."

"Kapag nagbigay ng sinungaling na pahayag ang isang official, siyempre, iko-quote namin (journalists) 'yan as accurately as we can. Magagamit pa ngayon ang reporter sa kasunungalingan at fake news," Tordesillas said.

The accountability of government sources should also "cover personal blogs of officials," Tordesillas said in the hearing where Margaux "Mocha" Uson and Rey Joseph Nieto, bloggers appointed to government positions, were present.

Uson, who maintains a widely followed Facebook page, is Communications Assistant Secretary while Nieto, the man behind pro-administration blog "Thinking Pinoy," is a Department of Foreign Affairs consultant. 

"What is deplorable about officials spreading fake news is that they are doing this using tax payers' money," the columnist said without dropping names.


But Former Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Viña said social media platforms and websites should be liable for failing to police information published on their websites.

La Viña said this would also help preserve freedom of speech and opinion guaranteed by the Constitution.

"The person who is still speaking can still speak, but what you are stopping is the means of propagating it," he said.

La Viña said other countries such as Germany are poised to craft laws to ensure that online platforms - where information is easily shared - would have some form of liability over the publication of false or unvetted information.

In other countries, websites are given between 24 hours to 3 days to take down misleading pieces, he said.


Representatives from news organizations meanwhile said journalists, who are not immune from committing errors, are subject to "internal policies" that would ensure correction.

"When we make mistakes, we have self-regulatory mechanisms we go through," said Chi Almario-Gonzales, ABS-CBN News Head for Futures, Standards and Ethics.

A "network ombudsman and news ethics units" are designated to spot errors on every story published by ABS-CBN News, and ensure that platforms correct errors and apologize for the mistake if needed, she said.

"We are not perfect, we have our lapses and we have apologized many times kapag nagkamali kami at nagkulang. There has to be accountability and discipline," Interaksyon Editor-in-Chief Roby Alampay meanwhile said. 

While legislation and policies have yet to be put in place, news and media literacy for netizens should be pushed, said Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public information and mass media.

"Kung hahayaan natin 'yan, baka lumaki ang mga bata na intolerant sa pananaw ng iba at madaling maniwala sa haka-haka," Poe said.

"We need to expose them to a kind of conversation that educates and enlightens; that relies on the truth and not the kind that does not respect facts," she added.