By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
Compare these two headlines in two newspapers last Jan. 6, 2017:
— “Noynoy, six others face plunder charge over illegal shipments of $141B gold bars”
— “Viral story gives Aquino his first spurious plunder rap”
Most other papers did variations of the first. One or two came out with something like the second.
It was a fake story but brought to the realm of real news.
Not true that 3,500 metric tons of gold bars were shipped to Taiwan, purportedly under the name of Ferdinand Marcos, by a Swiss bank and authorized by a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas circular (“#49”) approved by then president Noynoy Aquino and six other officials, including then justice secretary Leila de Lima and Sen. Franklin Drilon. supposedly to back up the printing of $3 trillion paper money for “humanitarian projects.”
Even a casual reading of the complaint tells one that it’s unbelievable or, at least, calls for thorough checking.
Marcos gold bars worth $141 billion? Shipped to Thailand for money printing? For humanitarian projects? And some fact-checking induced by red flags would’ve exposed the fakery: the supposed BSP circular #49 (non-existent), Republic Act 7655 (a law increasing the minimum wages of house-help!) and Centennial Energy Thailand (an investment firm, not a printer of bank notes).
The true part
What brought the concoction into the realm of legitimate news was that the filing of the lawsuit was a real event. It happened: lawyer Fernando Perito and accountant Rogelio Cantoria appeared before the ombudsman and submitted the document.
The fact of filing and the complainants were not fictitious. It was the allegations that were manufactured. Lifted, it turned out, from a Facebook account called “Kingdom Filipinas Hacienda Sovereign Host Nation” — or from any other internet user that copy-pasted the story on his page or and spread it to others.
Can’t blame the ombudsman clerks: they “ministerially” accept any and all complaints. Blame the lawyer and the CPA, Perito more heavily, for not verifying facts and the law. It’s bad enough when one reads fake news and spreads it (ignorant about its being bogus or malicious in circulating the falsehood). It’s worse if a lawyer and an accountant use it to sue others.
The concern here though is how media can avoid being a party to the spreading of untruth. In the Noynoy spurious plunder charge, editors showed how by vigilance they could stop the lie when they could, or by negligence allow it to reach more people.
As gatekeepers, that has always been part of the editor’s work: spotting and removing not just kinks in communication but also factual errors, distortions and, increasingly prevalent nowadays, fake news.
Regarding the Noynoy story, some editors did their job while a few seemed to have slipped and, worse, didn’t correct the falsehood in the next news cycle’s story.
Ask headline scanners and those who read the story that carried no contrary fact to question its truth. They must have thought Noynoy was headed to where his predecessor Gloria Arroyo had gone.