MANILA — Three seasoned journalists in the Philippines reiterated the importance of facts and holding social media platforms accountable for the spread of disinformation and polarization of society.
In a forum titled “Marshall McLuhan Forum Series on Responsible Media,” hosted by the College of Arts and Communication-UP Baguio and the Embassy of Canada, McLuhan fellows Christian Esguerra, Ellen Tordesillas, and Manny Mogato emphasized that facts remain crucial in the war versus fake news.
Talking to a crowd of communication and journalism students in UP Baguio, the media practitioners underscored that disinformation is “damaging the fabric of democracy.”
Christian Esguerra, a former Inquirer and ABS-CBN journalist, said the media is under siege and the country now has a culture of impunity risking democracy.
He added that people have to accept that "we currently are a polarized or fractured society in terms of political news."
“We care about the facts, but when it comes to political facts, everything goes haywire… You’re very much partisan with our predispositions.”
Underscoring the effect of disinformation, the former ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) host condemned its real-life impact on the country, especially in social media.
“Disinformation is the underlying problem of everything, but the main manifestation is the intense polarization that we are all experiencing.”
Veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas of VERA Files said that disinformation may affect people’s lives up to the simplest decisions they make every day.
“Disinformation is bad, it’s evil. It confuses us… and all our decisions are based on the information that we get… From the simplest things like anong shampoo ang bibilhin ko? ‘Pag maniniwala ka sa maling advertisement, so mali ‘yung shampoo na bibilhin mo.”
Manny Mogato, editor-at-large of PressONE.PH and formerly of Reuters, said that disinformation has become a global problem, and private companies are also a part of it.
Algorithms, propelled by an attention-driven business model which power most of the internet “as we currently know it”, should be regulated through legislation, although the privacy of users should be protected, said Mogato, a Pulitzer awardee.
“Platforms like Google and Facebook make… amounts of money, grabbing and capturing attention, so they can show paid advertisements. That attention is the game, using algorithm that measure what content we engage with and automatically show us more contents like it.”
In a September 2022 Pulse Asia survey, about nine out of every 10 Filipinos believe "fake news" is a problem, and “sizable majorities” believe that social media or the internet, television, and radio are its sources.
The poll also found that Filipino adults see "social media influencers, bloggers, and/or vloggers" as being "responsible for spreading fake political news in the country."
A report by Global Disinformation Index said that online news media in the Philippines face a "moderate level of disinformation risk."
SOLUTIONS VS DISINFORMATION
Esguerra said platform accountability, disinformation investigation and reporting, civic education, and legislation versus fake news are important tools to combat disinformation.
“Pinag-uusapan natin platform accountability, which is very very important, because we’re dealing with outlets, that are private companies, that suddenly found themselves dealing with the public good, which is information. Kasi negosyante sila eh, they realized na hawak pala nila ‘yung public good, at apektado ‘yung takbo ng demokrasya sa iba’t ibang bansa.” he said.
Mogato acknowledged that countries have taken active measures such as creating task forces to investigate and propose actions, including media literacy programs, law enforcement, and legislation.
Bills also have been filed in the Philippine Senate to address the issue, such as Senate Bill 547 and 1296, he noted. Similar proposals were also pushed in the lower chamber.
Giving advice to students who intend to enter the journalism industry, Tordesillas told them not to lose sight of accuracy.
“We have all these technological advances, [then] the more we should go back to the basics, the core values of journalism: accuracy. Always, never, never sacrifice truthfulness.”
A simple sense of skepticism from the people can go a long way, Tordesillas said.
Esguerra told the students they can persuade and engage “kababayans” to listen to facts and the truth.
“I hope since this is understandably an echo chamber… so ang assignment natin after this, we try to reach out to others, fellow Filipinos… and make them, number one, also care about the facts. Number two: make them do the fact-checking themselves.”
The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently announced that a digital media literacy campaign will be launched to combat misinformation and disinformation in the country.
The Marshall McLuhan Fellowship is an annual award to "a recipient embodying outstanding qualities in the field of investigative journalism," according to marshallmcluhan.org.
ANC anchor Karmina Constantino was named Marshall McLuhan fellow in 2022.