‘Spoiled and Rotten Information’: Debunking PNA’s Fake News
THE ADMINISTRATION of President Rodrigo Duterte has developed the habit of admonishing the media for reporting “fake news”— reports which are either critical of the administration, particularly its bloody war on drugs, or those lacking “creative imagination” to decipher the President’s candid and at times rather incendiary remarks. This time, however, the government itself, through its web-based newswire, the Philippine News Agency (PNA), is the object of a backlash for propagating falsehood.
In a May 15 report headlined “95 nations in 3rd UPR convinced no EJKs in PHL,” the PNA quoted Interior and Local Government Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III, as saying that during the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Switzerland, 95 nations were convinced there are no extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines. Densing was also reported to have said that the international community has been getting “spoiled and rotten information” from the local media about the drug situation in the country.
The report was widely shared by supporters of the President and eventually reached the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the UN body administering the UPR. Reacting to the PNA report on May 19, UPR Info, the official Twitter account of the UPR, tweeted this clarification: “To the best of our knowledge, 95 states were not ‘convinced that EJK is non-existent.’”
The following day, the PNA took down the report but replaced it with a similar story (PHL’s human rights situation commended at UPR). This time, the PNA said that 95 countries commended the Philippines for “an improved human rights situation” during the UPR.
Seeing the report as a propaganda piece blatantly peddling “fake news,” media outfits immediately called out the inaccuracies in the article.
VERA Files pointed out that the PNA was incorrect in saying that 95 countries were convinced there is no EJK in the Philippines. Aside from referring to the clarification made by UPR Info on Twitter, VERA Files also listed some of the comments from the countries present in the UPR condemning the drug killings in the country (VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PNA replaces its fake news that 95 states are convinced there are no EJKs in the country; no apology or reason given).
Rappler released a video of the actual press conference cited in the PNA’s report. In the video, Densing said that members of the Geneva delegation were very confident that other countries were convinced by the presentation of the new Foreign Affairs secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano. He did not say, however, that the countries were convinced there were no EJKs in the Philippines (FACT CHECK: PH News Agency says 95 countries convinced no EJKs in PH).
Rappler also sought Densing’s side regarding the claim that the local media had been disseminating “spoiled and rotten information.” Densing clarified that he never said those words during the said press conference.
InterAksyon also joined the fact-checking initiative by citing the draft report of the UPR working group. InterAksyon pointed out that the recommendations from UN member-states listed in the draft report indicate that other countries are concerned about the human rights situation in the Philippines (PNA | Govt’s official news agency may have recently dabbled in fake news – not once but twice).
This is not the first time the government has tried to pass off propaganda as fact, and it will likely not be the last. At times like this, efforts by the media to challenge outlandish claims purveyed by the government—or by any other group or individual spewing falsehood—are indispensable.
Note: On May 30, PNA issued an apology for their May 15 report, as well as for another error regarding the use of a wrong photo for a story on the government forces in Marawi. “Rest assured we have dealt with our erring personnel and that we are reviewing our procedures on reportage,” PNA said in their statement.