• Reading time:10 mins read

CBCP campaign against ‘fake news’ targets pro-Duterte sites

THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is at it again, undertaking a move to undermine President Duterte, using religion as a smokescreen.

Its penchant for meddling in secular affairs beyond its sphere has now been directed at alleged “fake-news” sites. In a “pastoral letter” signed by its president, Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas – who lusts after the distinction of being the country’s second Cardinal Sin—the CBCP announced that the “Catholic faith” requires fighting fake news.

While that exhortation seems harmless, the CBCP’s pastoral guidelines had an “Appendix” titled “A partial list of web/news/blog sites in the Philippines with fake or unverified content”. The CBCP’s subtext: Never visit these sites or you will be in sin. Who does Villegas think he is? God’s representative to determine what websites Filipinos should read and what they shouldn’t?

The list though reveals the CBCP’s real intent, disguised as a holy war against lies spread through the Internet.

While some of the sites listed are amateurish, unscrupulous attempts to lure “visitors” for advertising revenues, many of the sites listed have been supportive of President Duterte and his administration even before he assumed office, among them, www.getrealphilippines.com; www.thinkingpinoy.com; and www.mindanation.com.

In fact, I had been a fan of getrealphilippines that two years ago I contacted its anonymous “webmaster” to try to recruit him as a columnist for this newspaper. That getrealphilippines has been targeted by the CBCP is most probably due to the fact that it has been one of the earliest sites to do much research to debunk the myth of the Edsa revolution and the heroism of the Aquinos – both Ninoy and Cory. RJ Nieto who runs thinkingpinoy.com could trounce with his well-researched articles most columnists in mainstream papers.

I dare Villegas or anybody at the CBCP to send me an instance of “fake news” reportage by these two websites I have been familiar with.

Plot vs netizen journalism
Wittingly or unwittingly, the CBCP’s move is part of a plot to weaken netizen journalism in social media that has been an influential base of support for Duterte and his policies. It was this pro-Duterte social media that had roundly beaten during the last election campaign the mainstream media that supported Duterte’s rivals, mainly Mar Roxas. The core of such social media has continued to be supportive of Duterte, trouncing such well-funded anti-Duterte sites as Rappler.

Netizen-journalists have their weaknesses, mainly an inflated ego due to the objective metric showing that they have thousands and thousands of followers. By contrast, while still definitely egoistic, print journalists have had their egos cut down by shouting editors when they were still greenhorn reporters. Print journalists also know that they could be humbled anytime by an editor slashing their articles or even throwing them to the dustbin.

Despite this dangerous weakness though, netizen-journalists represent empowerment at the grassroots, and a force against oligarchic media.

Rappler practically endorsing Villegas’ list of ‘fake news’ official propagandists, and sites the faithful should boycott.

I won’t name rabidly anti-Duterte sites which insult our sense of decency and rationality, and which reduce argumentation to photo-shopped images, as doing so would just give them free advertising to lure more people to their sites.

But not a single one of these sites which are inarguably spreading fake news and insults in the Internet, was in the CBCP’s list of fake sites or blogs.

The CBCP has practically no staff that could have done research on the “fake sites” infesting the Internet, so how could it have come up with such a list?

Rappler’s list?
A source has claimed that it was Rappler’s editor in chief Maria Ressa, through one of her editors known to be close to the CBCP, that provided it the list. It was so cleverly done that it didn’t include as “purveyors of fake news” Mocha Uson, against whom Ressa has publicly ranted as the biggest fake-news generator, and Sass Rogando who has been fiercely criticizing the Rappler boss. Indeed, it has been Rappler that has prominently reported in several articles the CBCP’s campaign against fake news, practically endorsing the list of alleged “fake news” sites the religious organization has condemned.

Ressa in fact has been on a campaign against “fake news” sites, and implied these have taken over media when she tweeted a few months back, “Time to take back the Internet.” The Wikipedia entry on fake news reported: “Rappler investigated online networks of Duterte supporters and discovered that they include fake news, fake accounts, bots and trolls, which Rappler thinks are being used to silence dissent.” That entry was obviously made by Rappler itself.

I dare the CBCP to tell us exactly how it compiled the list of alleged “fake news” site—what criteria was used for a site’s inclusion in the list— and to deny that it got its list from a Rappler editor.

However, the plot to weaken Duterte’s political base in social media, disguised as a campaign against “fake news,” is so amateurish as to be so obvious.

After Ressa’s campaign through Rappler against fake news, CBCP comes up with a list of websites which are purportedly purveyors of fake news— which includes many pro-Duterte sites—and which the Church asks it faithful to boycott.

Then, Yellow Sen. Joel Villanueva, one of former President Aquino 3rd’s favorite officials, introduces a bill that would penalize such fake-news site with a fine of at least P10 million and imprisonment of 10 years. And what organization has the first list of such fake-news sites? CBCP.

The CBCP’s list of what it claimed were fake news sites reminds one of the Vatican’s infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of authors and publications which the Catholic faithful were prohibited from reading under pain of excommunication—which included the works of scientists and philosophers like Johannes Kepler and Immanuel Kant that would liberate mankind’s mind from religion-developed superstition. (It was discontinued by Pope Paul VI in 1966.)

Affront to our intellect
Like the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the CBCP’s list of “fake news” sites is an affront to our intellect and the freedom of the press. As the Index prevented a generation from reading Kepler and Kant and other intellectual giants, the CBCP’s list intends to prevent Catholics from reading valid analyses of the country’s situation.

Fake news – deliberate misinformation and hoaxes – has always been a dark facet of mass media as it has emerged in different forms. It was even used in ancient times by the Romans through their Acta Diurna, whitewashed boards posted in public places to demonize the current ruler’s enemies.

The dawn of newspapers had such an episode as The New York Sun in 1835 reporting the observation of life on the moon. The classic case of fake news, even if unintended, was the reading on radio of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, which listeners believed was an accurate news account of an invasion by Martians, and consequently triggered mass panic in New York.

But mankind has been clever enough so that fake news outfits have withered under the light of reason.

Don’t worry about “fake news” in social media. There are simple guideposts so one doesn’t swallow their lies. And there are steps one could take to get rid of them in your Facebook timeline.

If the news is so shocking that mainstream newspapers and news sites haven’t reported them at all, e.g., the death of a prominent personality, look at the website reporting it. If it’s a never-heard site, or one masquerading as being that of a major news organization (e.g., Fox-News24.com, or timenews.com), don’t waste your time reading it.

Then block it – if you use Facebook, it’s a must to learn how to block such sites. If it’s persistent news, especially one circulating globally – like that one about Chinese eating fetuses or Christians slaughtered by Muslims – check it out at a reliable fact checker, such as snopes.com. Having been quite disciplined in blocking such fake news sites, I hardly ever have such fake news in my time-line.

Easy to spot
Most “fake news” sites are easy to spot, and are set up by megalomaniac loners or unscrupulous individuals, out to get back at society because of their frustrations in life, or in the latter case, foolishly believing they can make a fast buck out of Internet advertisements. But they soon get tired of it, or don’t have the money to continue their scams, especially as Internet advertising isn’t as lucrative at it seems, with the lion’s share of such revenues going to Google.

These gradually vanish, as in fact happened to various versions of fake-news purveyors in different forms of mass media. What’s dangerous really is Big Media. For instance, a slew of newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, emerged after the 1986 Edsa Revolution. The “fake newspapers”—mostly tabloids—died natural deaths. What have survived though are such behemoths as The Philippine Daily Inquirer, which has managed to dominate Filipinos’ minds for decades with its fake Yellow narrative.

In these times, worry more about articles by well-funded sites that have a long-term agenda, such as Rappler, as these are cleverly disguised as rational, data-based reports.

A case in point: Even an excellent journalist like BBC HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur in his recent interview with Sen. Antonio Trillanes prefaced his program: “Since he came to power, around 7,000 people have been killed in his war on drugs crime.” Where did he get that 7,000 figure? From Rappler. And the figure is fake news as not only I but the Philippine National Police have debunked it. (See my March 20 article,” How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world.”)

More recently, Rappler had another fake news, that Duterte’s foreign trips were doubly expensive than those of his predecessors’, showing his allegedly exorbitant lifestyle. That was based on false information, and therefore was fake news. (See my June 21 column, “Duterte’s 21 foreign trips should be applauded, not ‘rapplered’”).

Don’t worry about pygmy “fake-news” sites, worry about Big Media and its fake news.