Fact Checks about media

MISSING CONTEXT: GMA shared fake news on Chinese ships dumping into West PH Sea

MISSING CONTEXT: GMA shared fake news on Chinese ships dumping into West PH Sea
GMA News initially released a graphic that mistakenly used an image of the Great Barrier Reef that has been on the internet since 2014. However, the report on Chinese ships dumping human waste in the West PH Sea was a recent analysis by a US-based expert. GMA News has corrected its graphic.
At a glance
  • Claim: GMA News reported that Chinese ships were dumping human waste into the West Philippine Sea (WPS), but cited an incident that happened in Australia in 2014.  
  • Rating: MISSING CONTEXT
  • The facts: In reporting about possible Chinese ships dumping waste into the WPS – the subject of findings presented by Liz Derr, founder and CEO of Simularity, on July 12, 2021 – GMA News initially used an image of the Great Barrier Reef that had been on the internet since 2014. Derr herself showed the photo during her presentation, where it was used in an introductory slide as a visual aid sourced from a website called “Marine Executive” to explain the sewage dumping activity of ships. Simularity’s actual findings were based on satellite images from 2017 to 2021 gathered and analyzed by the firm.
  • Why we fact-checked this: The video with the claim has gained 27,491 views, 1,100 likes, and 597 comments as of writing. 
Complete details

A video uploaded on July 13, 2021, by the YouTube channel “Robin Sweet Showbiz” claimed that a GMA News article on Chinese ships dumping human waste in the West Philippine Sea was an incident that happened in Australia in 2014.

The video was entitled, “GMA BISTADO ANG FAKE NEWS TUNGKOL SA WEST PHIL.SEA! UPANG SIRAAN SI DUTERTE? (GMA’s fake news about the West Philippine Sea was exposed! All to defame Duterte?)”

The video narration says: “Tila nga nakikisabay sa uso ang GMA-7 at ang GMA News sa kanila ang pagpapakalat ng fake news tungkol sa West Philippine Sea. Ibinalita nga nito kamakailan lang na ang West Philippine Sea ay tinapunan ng human waste ng isang China vessel…. Ngunit ang katotohanan pala ay matagal na itong balita at sa Australia ito naganap, noong October 4, 2014 pa, ayon ito sa DailyMail.com. Hindi ba’t napakagaling mag-edit ng GMA News?”

(Seems like GMA-7 and GMA News are following the trend of disseminating fake news about the West Philippine Sea. They recently reported that China vessels are throwing human waste into the West Philippine Sea…. However, the truth is, this news was reported years ago and it happened in Australia on October 4, 2014, according to DailyMail.com. Excellent editing by GMA News is excellent in editing!) 

The video shows a screenshot of a Daily Mail article published on October 4, 2014, along with the photo of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef situation.

The video with the claim has garnered 27,491 views, 1,100 likes, and 597 comments, as of writing.

The claim is missing context.

GMA News published an article on July 12, 2021, about China vessels dumping human waste and sewage into the West Philippine Sea based on a recent report by Liz Derr, founder and CEO of Simularity and a US expert in geospatial analysis. Simularity is a company that analyzes geospatial imagery and data to find and classify unusual changes across vast areas.

Derr presented her analysis about the West Philippine Sea on July 12, 2021, in a Stratbase forum to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the 2016 Hague ruling favoring the Philippines. (READ: Newly-convened citizens group offers strategies to enforce Hague ruling)

Using reverse image search application TinEye, it was found that the photo used by Derr in her presentation, and in turn used by GMA News in a July 12 graphic about the report on West Philippine Sea human waste dumping, was identical to one uploaded by the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia (WWF-Australia), on an undated page. 

A similar image was reuploaded on Flickr crediting the original source and saying it was taken on September 14, 2014. The photo was captioned, “The Brisbane, a cutter suction dredge barge, dumping dredge material from the Port of Cairns in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area / Marine Park.”

The Cairns and Far North Environment Centre and the WWF-Australia Facebook page also uploaded similar photos on October 3, 2014. These were also published in a Daily Mail article on October 4, 2014.

Meanwhile, the initial post of GMA News was deleted due to the inaccurate photo. The network then released a revised version of the image card without the photo of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, on the same day. 

In a tweet, GMA said, “NOTE: This is a revised poster. We took down the original tweet containing an inaccurate image. We want to thank our followers for tweeting us this feedback. We apologize for the oversight.”

Derr tracked the satellite imagery showing that the once healthy algae and coral reefs are now damaged because of the high concentrations of Chlorophyll a in the Philippine exclusive economic zone in the Spratlys. She said that the reason was hundreds of vessels had been disposing human waste and sewage into the West Philippine Sea every day, causing environmental damage over the years. (READ: Human waste, sewage likely from Chinese ships destroying Spratly reefs)

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana released a statement on July 13, stating that they were paying attention to the issue of dumping of human waste into the South China Sea. However, he also expressed the defense establishment’s concern over the photo that accompanied the report of Simularity, while also questioning the conclusion of the analysis with the use of satellite images only. (READ: Duterte gov’t casts doubt on reports of sewage dumped in Spratlys)

Derr replied to Rappler on July 13 and said that she was “not able to verify that these ships are from China based on satellite imagery and data,” However, she indicated that “the Philippine Coast Guard has taken numerous photos of these ships since March, and they are clearly Chinese.”

Derr added, “However, I can only say there is a very high probability that the ships in the images are Chinese.”

Rappler has fact-checked the YouTube channel “Robin Sweet Showbiz” multiple times before. Read more on their misleading claims about Pacquiao submitting a fake diploma to rank as a lieutenant colonel, Senators sued for treason, and 1Sambayan releasing a presidential survey. – Nicole Anne Perez/Rappler.com

Nicole Anne Perez is a Rappler intern. This fact check was reviewed by a member of Rappler’s research team and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler’s internship program here.

Keep us aware of suspicious Facebook pages, groups, accounts, websites, articles, or photos in your network by contacting us at factcheck@rappler.com. Let us battle disinformation one Fact Check at a time.

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