Cebu Citizens-Press Council

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CCPC  says Congress definition of ‘fake news’ must exclude specifically honest mistakes in news reporting

January 29th, 2023 · No Comments

CCPC statement, Dec. 8, 2022

The Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) has condemned and deplored the proliferation of  false and deceptive stories in media platforms.  On proposals in Congress, however,  which seek to criminalize  misinformation and disinformation,  CCPC has repeatedly called for  a clear and specific definition  of  “fake news.”

CCPC believes the definition of Senate Bill #1296 does not shield journalists from prosecution for mistakes in news gathering or editing.  Fake news is defined in the bill as “misinformation or disinformation of stories, facts and news which is presented as a fact, the veracity of which cannot be confirmed, with the purpose of distorting the truth and misleading its audience.”

A Department of Justice lawyer said  it is “very difficult to investigate and prosecute.”  CCPC fears  for something else:  The proposed bill  might  become just another instrument  to hit back at journalists and discourage  active reporting and commentary.

CCPC DEFINITION.  The  proposed Senate definition does not exclude honest journalistic mistake or lapse in judgment in the field or in the newsroom —  or, for many “citizen journalists,”  lack of journalistic training.  The definition  is so broad that it  allows a prosecutor to raise a complaint to court even on shaky ground,  so abundant in faith that it gives police and prosecutors unqualified discretion to judge what is fake news.

On March 6, 2018, CCPC  defined “fake news”  thus:  “Fake news is fabricated content presented as factual information in the guise of news. Mistakes in reporting and editing, made in good faith in the rush of deadline are not fake news but such errors violate journalism standards and shall be avoided or promptly corrected.”

(CCPC offers definition of ‘fake news,’  SunStar, March 6,  2018;  Why CCPC has defined ‘fake news,’  CJJ Magazine,  June 26, 2018)

A media colleague reportedly suggested that Congress refrain from using the phrase “fake news.”   An oxymoron:  if it’s news, it’s not fake; if it’s fake, it’s not news.   The problem is that “fake news” as a term  is already widely used, with legitimate media work as among its victims., Merriam Webster  and  other English dictionaries such as Cambridge, Collin, Mcmillan, and Oxford, and  think groups like the Center for Information Technology and Society.   It was word of the year in 2017.

What media can help is to have it defined clearly and specifically so that the public will be reminded of what it is not.  The reason is more compelling in a  penal law that  could be used to intimidate and harass  media workers. []

Atty. Pachico A. Seares, Executive Director

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