The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas today demanded the closure of the Philippine News Agency (PNA), the web-based news wire service of the Philippine government after it reported fake news regarding the COVID-19 testing of Philippine General Hospital health workers.
In its news report posted on March 24, PNA claimed that “close to 100 PUI-health workers of PGH negative of Covid-19” when in fact, no COVID-19 testing happened. PNA’s report was called out and refuted by a medical officer working at PGH, saying that the PNA news item was “constructed to shape public opinion that PGH health workers were already tested and are deemed safe to handle PUIs and COVID-19 patients. The PGH medical officer stressed that all UP-PGH health workers did not undergo COVID-19 testing.
PNA revised the headline of the news item after the post went viral on social media but did not take down nor clarified about the erroneous article.
“Given that the Duterte administration’s main media agency itself creates and propagates fake news, the inclusion of an “anti-fake news” provision in the “emergency powers” granted to the president yesterday is extremely suspect,” Ramos points out.
A provision in the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” which aims to exact heavy punishment on those who will spread fake news was included by Congress. The specific provision reads: xxx Section 6 (6) punishes “individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion.”xxx
The law will also punish “those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts.”
KMP expressed alarm with this particular provision which can be abused to further stifle the people’s right to freedom of expression and right to information. The farmer organization point out the absence of an unbiased method as how something is tagged as punishable “fake news.” “The Duterte administration’s media machinery has long been revealed as inaccurate and unreliable sources of fair and truthful reporting and information; not PNA, not Mocha Uson and her gang of bloggers, not even palace spox Salvador Panelo are reliable. They have all propagated fake and malicious news and information,” Ramos explains.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also recently declared as fake news the reports and complaints about the insufficiency of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for frontline health workers. The inadequacy of PPEs and COVID-19 testing kits for frontline medical and health workers are however concrete realities. In fact, four doctors already died from COVID-19.
“Once Duterte’s emergency powers take effect does pointing out the sheer falsity, fakery, and lies of government officials’ brash pronouncements become tagged as “criminal fake news” too?” Ramos asks.
“If the public demands free mass testing to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, would the government consider it as fake news? Kung ganito ang mindset ng gobyerno, sila na lang ang magiging source ng balita at importasyon. Lahat ay bawal nang magtanong, magsuri at magreklamo kapag may nakitang mali o kulang sa ginagawa ng gobyerno,” Ramos lamented. #