Against Disinformation

Posted by cmfr | Posted in In Medias Res | Posted on 22-02-2018

By Luis V. Teodoro

THE DEMOCRACY and Disinformation Conference held last February 12 and 13 at the Ateneo de Manila University Rockwell campus in Makati City wasn’t exactly ignored by mainstream media. But not all media organizations seemed ready to report the event. With very few exceptions, only the media organizations that jointly organized the conference and some bloggers reported the discussions and salient points raised by the wide range of speakers from the media, academia and civil society.

The conference was called because of the proliferation of disinformation, another name for outright lies, and more popularly known today by the oxymoronic term “fake news,” and its implications on the quality of discourse on public issues needed in a democracy.

Among the issues that should be of public concern are whether the Constitution should be amended or even replaced altogether, and a federal form of government adopted; the need for the government to assert Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea; the necessity and wisdom of  resuming peace negotiations with armed political and social movements; the impact on human rights of the ongoing “drug war” and whether its methods and aims should be reexamined to prevent further killings; if democracy has failed and dictatorship the only means for the Philippines to develop;  etc., etc.

The conference media partners Philippine Daily Inquirer, VERA Files, Rappler and ABS-CBN News Channel live-streamed, or tweeted, and reported the points raised by such speakers as Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, and former Secretary of Education Armin Luistro, as well as  the progress of the conference. Although not a partner, TV network GMA-7 also did live tweets for a time.

For the value of the points raised and the imperative of informing the public of what’s at stake in the current atmosphere of disinformation and misinformation from government, news and social media, the conference demanded much more coverage than what transpired. Outstanding in their silence, for example, were leading broadsheets and other less widely circulated newspapers based in the National Capital Region.

Relative to the importance of an issue that’s critical to both the democratization of Philippine society and governance as well as to the responsibilities of the press and media, the limited coverage was disappointing. But it was also illustrative of much of the press and media’s incapacity to understand the threat to free expression and press freedom of the current regime of disinformation, and their inability to transcend the political and economic interests that divide them.

This was so obviously demonstrated in the tepid response to, and even acquiescence of, the media community to the revocation of online news site Rappler’s certificate of registration. As widely expected, some sectors of the media community, including bloggers, faithfully echoed Malacañang’s expressed approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision.

These realities in both old and new media raise the obvious question of who the people can rely on to provide the accurate information so desperately needed in a country that has never been more divided than today, and the rights of whose inhabitants are in grave peril from the restoration of open authoritarian rule.

The answer can only be on the relative handful of responsible and independent press and media organizations and practitioners as well as on those nongovernmental organizations that value free expression. Upon them now has fallen the task of providing the accurate and reliable information sorely needed by a citizenry confused by the lies being peddled by a regime intent on savaging what little remains of Philippine democracy. In the context of the sustained and unrelenting regime attacks on the free press, fulfilling that duty has never been more urgent– and more dangerous.