Something very disturbing occurred at the recent Senate hearing into the spread of fake news on the Net. First off, Senator Bam Aquino couldn’t hide his anger towards two pro-Duterte bloggers — Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and RJ Nieto a.k.a. “Thinking Pinoy”. During the hearing, Aquino kept berating and questioning their credibility. He was behaving like someone who’s had it with the two and used his position as a senator to show them who’s boss.
At some point, Aquino repeatedly asked Uson if she ever made an effort to get his or any of her subjects’ side of the story before writing against them in her articles. She replied by saying she is not a journalist, which seemed to irritate Aquino even more. He wanted a “yes” or “no” response presumably because he did not want to give Uson a chance to explain herself.
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It seems Aquino doesn’t understand the difference between a journalist and a blogger. A journalist has an obligation to report facts, which includes getting both sides of the story. A blogger however, does not necessarily have to comply with the same standards journalists are subject to since blogs are opinion pieces. Blogs are also similar to those written by columnists from mainstream media – meaning they can be biased. People like Aquino cannot expect “balanced news” from a blogger like Uson particularly since she is a self-proclaimed “Die-hard Duterte Supporter”.
Aquino needs to be reminded that since Uson is not a journalist, her articles are not news. Readers should take her articles with a grain of salt. That’s what I say to my own critics. When they accuse me of being biased, I remind them that I do not force anyone to read my articles because they are my own opinions and they should take it or leave it. As a blogger, I base my opinion on facts reported by mainstream media. I do not need to get both sides of the story since journalists reporting the news have done that for me.
A lot of people get confused with Uson’s role now. The senators reminded her that since she is now part of government, she should be more careful with her posts. While Uson is not violating any rules, people expect her to be more prudent and be more accountable since anything she says can be misconstrued as an official statement from the communications office. This I have to agree with. It is a dilemma for Uson since she was a blogger before she joined Malacanang’s communication team and she was actually hired because of her strong influence as a blogger. It would not hurt for Uson to exercise due diligence in her future posts to avoid giving her detractors more material against her. She should do this also to protect the Duterte government.
To be fair to Uson and Nieto, the senators struggled to prove that they published fake news. Senator Francis Pangilinan only had that photo of officers of the Honduras police force kneeling, which Uson shared on her Facebook page against her. She actually had a valid excuse – she didn’t claim it was a picture of the Philippine army in the first place. She only used the image to drive a message.
Aquino bullying bloggers at the hearing was bad enough, he also did something outrageous. He used a list of fake news sites created by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) while grilling Nieto. Evidently, Aquino cannot separate the Church from state affairs. By using a list created by the CBCP, Aquino inadvertently proved that the Church still has a strong influence on the government of the Philippines — that any statement from the Church can be used officially by the State against individuals.
Aquino’s use of the CBCP’s list of fake news sites also proves the Philippines is still backward. It’s baffling the way a senator would be so gullible to believe a list from clergymen who did not bother to show the methodology they used in creating the said list. Aquino even mentioned that the list was read in Churches which, to him, gave it validity. Reading it during sermons during mass fails the “So What?” Test. The CBCP was not transparent in how they came up with a list of fake sites. What authority do they have? And why didn’t they include sites like Silent No More Ph that are against the government? Only those critical of the Liberal Party and those who support Duterte were included.
Aquino was very selective. He also questioned why Nieto was invited as a resource speaker considering his blogsite Thinking Pinoy was included in the CBCP’s list of fake news site. Aquino ignored the fact that the site Silent No More Ph, which is run by anonymous bloggers, is actually the one under fire for publishing libellous statements against seven senators. They are the reason a Senate hearing on fake news was initiated. The alleged owner of that site and other anonymous sites like Pinoy Ako Blog, Cocoy Dayao did not even show up to answer the allegations against him. He didn’t even respond to the Senate invitation. His so-called friends from the Liberal Party, former communications spokespeople Abi Valte and Edwin Lacierda denied their association with Dayao. Valte even advocated taxing people like Dayao who earns from Google Adsense. It’s not the first time LP members threw their former allies under the bus.
Aquino’s attitude was disturbing. He showed his own bias. He also showed he lacks the proper critical thinking faculties to analyse the problem. The proliferation of fake news is one thing, but the biggest problem is people’s gullibility and laziness in applying critical analysis skills.
Another senator who exhibited his bias was Antonio Trillanes. He had the gall to tell the bloggers not to deceive the public. The senator reminded them that since they have a strong following and are in government, they have to use their influence properly. Trillanes is the wrong person to teach others about decency. He promotes hate most of the time and uses deception to bring his opponents down.
Over all, the Senate hearing on fake news did not seem to go anywhere. It’s not surprising since both the senators and the resource speakers could not agree on how to behave with accountability and decency.
In life, things are not always what they seem.