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Media Fails to Fact-Check Spokesperson | CMFR

Media Fails to Fact-Check Spokesperson

Screengrab from PTV4’s YouTube account.

ON TUESDAY, December 5, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque faced media and announced the decision to declare the CPP-NPA as a terror group:  “It’s not a memorandum, it’s a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army as a designated identified terrorist organization under RA number 10168. RA 10168 as you know is the Human Security Act.” He added, “So the proper petition must be filed by the DOJ in court…petition to classify the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group under the Human Security Act.”

The peace talks between the government and the Left were cancelled on November 23.

It seems the spokesperson  can get away with mistakes, as the media would not know better. Media reports in primetime newscasts on that day and newspapers the following morning all missed the spokesman’s blunder. RA 10168 is not the Human Security Act but the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.  RA 9372 is the Human Security Act which is the anti-terrorism law of the country. Section 17 of RA9372 provides for the proscription of terrorist organizations, association (sic), or group of persons.

CMFR jeers media’s general practice of repeating statements of public officials or information relayed during press briefings, without double checking these for factual accuracy. A simple matter of verification is necessary when quoting or repeating what an official said.

CNN Philippines’ News Night and TV5’s Aksyon showed the clip of Roque announcing the proclamation of the president. Meanwhile, ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol did not quote him and GMA-7’s 24 Oras had no report on the matter. Only Aksyon included some background on the peace talks with the Left in their report, recalling the unilateral ceasefire the president announced in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July 2016 and the termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) on February 2017. But the report did not correct Roque’s slip.

News reports on broadsheets on December 6 were no different, as most quoted what the spokesperson said without any clarification. For their part, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Standard  cites Roque as the source but did not directly quote him in announcing the government’s move.

The copy of the proclamation is now uploaded on OfficialGazette.gov.ph.

The error may be minor, but the media’s role is to provide factual information, or correct factual errors, even when these come from a public official. The negligence about fact-checking, especially with the rise of fake news has to be a habit. That it is not is disappointing.