Lying gov’t officials worsen fake news problem – Hilbay, Tordesillas

Camille Elemia
Lying gov’t officials worsen fake news problem – Hilbay, Tordesillas
'What I consider a threat to our democratic values and a danger to the market place of ideas is the prevalence of false information provided by public officials - whether deliberately or out of sheer incompetence,' says lawyer Florin Hilbay

MANILA, Philippines – A veteran journalist and a former solicitor general said the problem of fake news is caused by government officials spreading lies using public funds.

Veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas and lawyer Florin Hilbay said the country’s libel laws are already enough to discipline the media and address the problem of fake news.

“May sapat naman tayong batas para madisiplina kung may pagkukulang man o may pagkakamali ang media. Ang nakikita kong problema ay ang mga opisyal ng pamahalaan na siyang nagsasabog ng kasinungalingan,” Tordesillas said on Wednesday, October 4, during a Senate hearing.

(We have enough laws to displine the media when it has lapses or commits mistakes. The problem is government officials are the ones spreading lies themselves.)

“A number of government officials, politicians tend to play fast and loose with the facts, in the process misleading the public. What is deplorable is that they are doing this with taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Asked to specify public officials spreading lies, Tordesillas pointed to President Rodrigo Duterte for admitting he “invented” opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s offshore bank accounts.

“In the case of President Duterte on the bank accounts ni Trillanes. Inamin niya later on na fake but it was reported (he admitted it was fake but it was reported),” Tordesillas said.

Hilbay, for his part, lamented the government’s “dishonesty” and spread of fake news.

“The problem is not private citizens on Facebook or Twitter exposing government incompetence, dishonesty, or corruption. The problem is government dishonesty. It is worrisome for government to engage in witchunt to expose private speakers on claims these citizens are being too critical or dishonest,” Hilbay said.

“What I consider a threat to our democratic values and a danger to the market place of ideas is the prevalence of false information provided by public officials – whether deliberately or out of sheer incompetence,” he added.

The issue, Hilbay said, poses “special problems”, saying the spread of wrong information is being paid with public funds and that public officials have access to government facilities, making that information “widely distributed.”

Present during the hearing were bloggers RJ Nieto of ThinkingPinoy and Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, who claimed she is a “victim” of fake news despite spreading erroneous information on her own blog.

Uson said she is not required to be fair in her blogs because unlike journalists, bloggers have no such obligation. (READ: Mocha Uson says rules on fairness don’t apply to her)

Senator Risa Hontiveros then pointed out that bloggers want the same “stature” as mainstream media but do not want the same accountability and “limitations” applied to them. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com