Not fake news; just inaccurately reported news

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The concept of news—the very stuff of journalism and freedom of information—is under virulent attack in two democratic societies in the world. One is the Philippines and the other is the US. The most insidious element of the attack has been the deployment of the word ‘fake’ to qualify news.

There is no such thing as fake news. Indeed, fake news is an oxymoron. The suggestion that there are two kinds of news—fake news and true news—is absurd. News is news. What is involved in this fracas is not fake news versus non-fake news; what is involved is the difference between accurate reporting and inaccurate reporting of news. If an event or a situation is accurately and straightforwardly, you have news. On the other hand, if in the narration of an event or situation there is a departure from actuality, what you have is not news but a case of false reporting.

There is nothing new about what is being widely decried nowadays as fake news. Inaccurately reported news has been with us for as long as there have been people who wish to cause damage to the well-beings and reputations of others. Hucksters and hacks—that’s what trolls were called in times past—have always been there to wreak their particular kind of havoc on the enemies of their masters. False news, how well we know thee.

Apart from the change in technological uses, what makes today’s Philippine and US journalistic environments different is the apparent encouragement, support and direction provided by Malacañang and the White House. People who in times past would have been run out of town for their nefarious activity—concocting stories and writing up blogs against the critics of the Duterte and Trump administrations—today are being coddled, praised and even given fancy positions in the government. In times past, being called a purveyor of ‘fake news’ was a badge of absolute demerit; today such a name-tag is being worn with apparent pride and honor.

What I have been saying above is that news cannot be faked; it can only be inaccurately reported. In real journalistic establishments, i.e., establishments manned by people who have undergone training as journalists and are committed to upholding the basic principles of journalism, individuals who repeatedly misreport or distort stories are reprimanded or fired. Excuses such as “I thought these were the facts” are not accepted.

A major contributor to the fuss about so-called news is that product of the era of the Internet—the blog. Deny it to high heaven as they will, the fact is that bloggers like to pass themselves off as journalists, like the men and women whose views are published in the op-ed (opinion editorial) pages of newspapers. Bloggers operate on the fringes of the press. They are not news reporters or editors; they are writers of opinion. Reporters and editors have to handle facts; opinion writers don’t. Thus, the fuss and the hullabaloo should be not about fake news but about baseless blog opinions.

To the Senators who are upset about so-called fake news and are about to examine an anti-fake-news bill I say the following. Don’t be concerned about so-called fake news. There’s no such thing; there are only accurately reported news and inaccurately reported news. The media establishments have the rules and the means to discipline employees—reporters and editors—who report the news inaccurately. The people that your proposed measure should be going after are the bloggers, who try to pass off non-journalistic writings that contain baseless and hopelessly biased thoughts as news.

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