Harry Roque denies encouraging fake news

Pia Ranada
Harry Roque denies encouraging fake news
But President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman also says, 'Lies are part of the free marketplace of ideas'

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, on Wednesday, January 31, denied he ever encouraged fake news.

“What I said earlier that without fake news we would not know what is true news should not be taken as governmental encouragement of fake news. Far from it,” he said in a statement.

He was referring to remarks he made in a January 28 press conference: “Kung walang fake news, hindi natin malalaman kung ano iyong true news. Hindi natin malalaman kung ano’ng kasinungalingan, hindi rin natin malalaman kung ano’ng katotohanan. So, let there be a free marketplace of ideas.”

(If there’s no fake news, we wouldn’t know what’s true news. We wouldn’t know the lies, we also wouldn’t know the truth. So, let there be a free marketplace of ideas.)

He also posted on Facebook a quote meant to embody his take on fake news: “Even a false statement may be deemed to make a valuable contribution to public debate, since it brings about the clearer perception [and] livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Though Roque’s remarks were taken as a justification for spreading misinformation, he insists they are not. (READ: Blogger-propagandists, the new crisis managers)

He explained that the United States Supreme Court allowed “even mistakes in reportage on public figures.”

“Free and open debate about the conduct of public officials, the Court reasoned, was more important than occasional, honest factual errors that might hurt or damage officials’ reputations,” said Roque. 

But “fake news” as most Filipinos understand it today are not “honest factual errors” but deliberately misleading articles meant to skew public opinion, often for political gain.

Roque also admitted as much in the last part of his statement.

“For sure and to be clear, fake news as is known today should find no place as a matter of governmental policy. Enlightened citizens should be able to pick out chaff from grain and appreciate what good journalism is about,” he said.

Duterte’s spokesman added that protection of freedom of speech guarantees against government censorship, even when it comes to false information.

“Even US journalism has a sordid history in the so-called ‘penny press’ of promoting quackery and all sorts that today would not be considered respectable journalism….yet US jurisprudence on free speech developed a conviction that the solution is never governmental censorship, but better journalism,” said Roque.

‘Victim’ of fake news

This is the second time in a week that Roque claims his remarks were misunderstood. 

On January 25, he claimed he never said Filipinos cannot afford  to conduct Benham Rise research on their own, though transcripts say otherwise.

He complained how media had taken his words out of context after his remarks sparked outrage among members of the academe and netizens who felt Roque was insulting Filipino scientists.

Duterte’s spokesman then said he posted the quote about false news to console himself as he too was a “victim” of “fake news.”

“I said that actually to console myself because I felt I was a victim of fake news myself,” he said on January 29.

Asked if he believes lies are good for democracy, Roque said, “What I’m saying [is], lies are part of the free marketplace of ideas. And fortunately, we are possessed with sufficient intelligence to decipher lies from the truth.” (WATCH: ‘Fake news’ and the dilemma it has created– Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.