The Economist in its April 5 issue carried an article that said Asian countries have launched phony assaults on fake news and are finding mixed results.
The article reported among others the following:
In Malaysia, the Lower House of Parliament passed on April 2nd a law, which decrees that those who publish or spread “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false” are liable to six years in prison and a fine of 500,000 ringgit ($130,000). Critics scoff that the government is guilty of many such falsehoods, and will have to start by prosecuting itself. But the government contends that the bill is needed to patch gaps in existing legislation, allowing faster action to stop the spread of calumny through social media, as well as in print. It will also punish third parties caught financing the dispersion of such material.
The minister of communications, Salleh Said Keruak, contended that the bill would not hamper free speech.
In neighboring Singapore, discussions about curbing “deliberate online falsehoods” are also under way. A parliamentary committee is considering more than 160 written submissions and hours of testimony from academics, activists and journalists. Existing laws cannot cope with the speed and scope of social-media sharing, argued Janil Puthucheary, an MP on the committee. “Our intent is to allow for much more informed discourse,” he said. It helps that Singapore’s Constitution allows the government to limit free speech with “such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient.”
In India, the Ministry of Information issued rules that would revoke the credentials of journalists found to be peddling falsehoods. Supportive ministers shared links from The True Picture, an online outfit supposedly dedicated to identifying fake news. But the site, it turned out, was actually run by the media team of Narendra Modi, the prime minister. Prime Minister Modi abruptly ordered the ministry to rescind its new rules, which had been in force for less than a day.
Governments, it seems, are no better than anyone else at discerning genuine news from the fake sort or—worse—no more inclined to truthfulness than those whom they so eagerly denounce.
The magazine went on to report that the Philippines was also attempting to control fake news.
It said President Rodrigo Duterte has banned a local news website, Rappler, from covering his events on the ground that its reports were “fake news.” The magazine commented that, “ironically, the Philippines is awash with fake news claiming false accolades for Mr Duterte.” It cited Rappler for being critical of the President.
We have several comments on the way it dismisses efforts here in the Philippines to arrest the tide of fake news and false communications.
First, there are serious media organizations in the Philippines, The Manila Times included, that do a serious and sustained job of reporting and interpreting events and developments accurately and comprehensively for the benefit of audiences and the public. Some of us in mainstream media endeavor to maintain good operations. We are real and serious business organizations.
Second, we are mystified with the way a serious foreign magazine like the Economist, with no editorial coverage whatever of our country, can comment on our media situation on the mere say-so of Rappler.
The media industry and journalism are a serious business and profession in the Philippines.
If the Economist is serious about reporting on media developments in the Philippines, it should field a reporter in our capital and do its own fact-checking first, instead of merely rely on the say-so of an organization whose registration has been revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.
Rappler, in fact, has problems with the law. It has problems with its financiers. It has been deserted by almost all of its Filipino financial backers. Its bid to become the media fact-checker for Facebook in the Philippines is too hilarious for words—an organization of dubious legality and credentials posturing as fact-checker of social media in the country. This is not funny at all.