Media's Public

Not being a journalist is no excuse for peddling fake news

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita

Sen. Bam Aquino asked Mocha Uson why she had not sought the side of the people she castigated in her blog. “I’m not a journalist, po,” she repeatedly said

“Ang ginagawa ko, di po ako journalist…”
— Mocha Uson, PCOO assistant secretary who also writes a blog, during Senate hearing on bill seeking to criminalize fake news

THERE’S no universally accepted definition of a journalist. Standards and definitions vary. Each group or sector engaged in communication or with media has its own concept of what a journalist is.

Even courts. In the 2011 ruling of an Oregon federal judge, seven requirements were laid down for one to be deemed a journalist to enjoy the protection of a shield law for media. Montana blogger Crystal Cox, who was sued for calling a lawyer a thug and a thief, was not a journalist, he ruled. Archaic definition, snorted some journalists.

Uson’s defense

Mocha Uson, a blogger who became an assistant secretary in the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO), wouldn’t pass most of the U.S. judge’s criteria. Under local standards, she insisted she was not a journalist, even using it as excuse for not behaving like one.

In this week’s hearing on the bill seeking to criminalize fake news, Sen. Bam Aquino asked Uson why she had not sought the side of the people she castigated in her blog. “I’m not a journalist, po,” she repeatedly said. But journalist or not, it’s wrong for her to use fake news in her blog. As a PCOO official, it was incongruous and weird. No, Aquino didn’t tell her that but maybe he should have.

Not the issue

The issue is fake news: producing or trafficking fake news is wrong. Will the proposal before the Senate committee not impinge on free speech and free press? Will it work?

Uson was asked, predictably, about her blogs that offended a number of senators who belong to the minority and at times criticize President Duterte.

More time was spent on Uson’s failure to be balanced in her writing. The senators could’ve dwelt more on (1) whether PCOO could wage propaganda for the administration without peddling lies and (2) how PCOO, which vowed to fight fake news, could do it effectively when bloggers it has hired are accused of the same offense.

Won’t give up blogs

Most unlikely that anyone of the PCOO’s bloggers would give up their blogs. PCOO itself wouldn’t want to abandon its arsenal, which proved efficient during the 2016 election campaign and could be useful against “the enemies of the state.” They hired Uson for her help in getting the president elected and her current high value as blog writer with a large following.

Sen. Nancy Binay told Uson she had to choose between blogging and working for PCOO. Advice given but not necessarily adopted. The senators can set a more modest goal instead: keep the artillery fire, funded by taxpayer’s money, away from the lawmakers and if that can’t be avoided, at least not to use fake news as ammunition.

Don’t use lies

Senator Bam scored Uson’s failure to meet the journalism rule on balance. And her reply about not being a journalist indicates she’s not about to become one and embrace journalism gospels.

PCOO chief Martin Andanar recognized the harm that bloggers could do when last August he said he’d encourage non-government bloggers it would accredit to follow standards of journalism.

As to Uson and other bloggers under him, he could order them — if they’d take his word. One such blogger (not Mocha) told the senators, the government “needs us more than we need them.”

(publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com)

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