WITH Communications Secretary Martin Andanar leading the Asean Ministers for Responsible Information (AMRI), the regional bloc’s seriousness in containing the spread of “fake news” becomes questionable.
Remember that the former television news anchor had ceased to function as the primary spokesman of President Duterte after he irresponsibly accused members of the media of receiving bribes of as much as $1,000 each from alleged handlers of retired policeman Arthur Lascañas in February.
Lascañas had accused Duterte of ordering the killing of criminals while he was mayor of Davao City.
Mocha Uson, who made a name for herself as a striptease dancer and blogger, is an assistant secretary in charge of social media in Andanar’s office. Mention “fake news” and Mocha Uson easily comes to mind.
Uson’s postings in her social media accounts have been rabidly pro-Duterte. She has posted wrong, distorted, and exaggerated information to defend the President from his critics. Yet, she has been calling out mainstream media to be responsible and fair in their reporting. She and her cohorts label anybody who criticizes Duterte as “dilawan.” She does not mince words against Duterte critics, including Vice President Leni Robredo.
Remember, too, that the Philippine News Agency (PNA), a government agency that came out with erroneous reports and photographs in recent months, is also under Andanar’s supervision and control.
For sure the Asean information ministers had the best intentions when they came out with a statement expressing their desire to fight fake news by promoting media literacy. The Asean leaders, during their 31st summit concluded last Tuesday in Manila, recognized the role of the information ministers in “countering the spread of fake news in the region.”
However, Andanar’s unpleasant performance record as head of the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) does not lend credibility to Asean’s campaign against fake news.
Well, Andanar just happened to head the AMRI because he is the chief information officer of the Philippines, the host country. I don’t know for how long Andanar will be holding this position before passing it on to the information minister of Singapore, the incoming chair of the Asean annual meetings.
But for now, I cannot stand having to listen to Andanar talking about combating misinformation. The bigger problem is disinformation, or the deliberate spreading of false information to deceive.
In the dictionary, misinformation is defined as false information that is simply wrong irrespective of whether it is deliberate or accidental, a genuine mistake or criminal incompetence. Disinformation is deliberate and implies a policy of avoiding giving the truth, but may not actually be false.
Misinformation and disinformation have swept not just the Asean region but also other parts of the world, particularly the United States.
A few days ago, the UK-based Guardian newspaper reported the findings of Freedom House, a US-funded charity group, that the governments of 30 countries around the globe, the Philippines included, are using “armies of opinion shapers” to influence elections, advance anti-democratic agendas, and counter critics.
We have long known these keyboard armies, online bots, trolls, or worse, cyber bullies.
For Andanar to be effective and credible in leading the fight against fake news, he should not look too far. He ought to clean his own backyard first. Get rid of Uson, or send her to training workshops on responsible social media engagement. Make sure that agencies under him do not dish out false information.
But then, that would be a herculean task for someone who is lacking not only in credibility but also respect from the industry where he came from—broadcast journalism.
Oh, wait! As I write this piece, news reports came up that Andanar thinks that it is a no-brainer that Uson will win if she runs for the Senate in 2019. It doesn’t mean that only those who are not using their brain will make Uson win. I take it to mean that Andanar simply wants Uson out of the PCOO and encouraging her to run in the next elections would be a graceful exit for her. That would be one headache less for Andanar.