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The fake news menace

By: Johnny Dayang

About a month ago, August 29 to be exact, President Duterte signed Republic Act 10951, the law on “fake news,” which adjusts the amount or value of damage imposed under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code for the “unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.”

The law carries a penalty of arresto mayor and a maximum P200,000 fine for any person who publishes false news that endangers public order or cause damage to the state.

Some other punishable provisions of the law stand out as significant. The law covers the use of “fake news, word utterances or speeches that encourages defiance of the law or duly constituted authorities; or praises, justification to extol any act that is contrary to law.”

Moreover, “any person who shall maliciously publish or cause to be published any official resolution or document without proper authority, or before they have been published officially,” faces fine, in the same way that “any person who shall print, publish, or distribute or cause to be printed, published, or distributed books, pamphlets, periodicals, or leaflets which do not bear the real printer’s name, or which are classified as anonymous” shall be penalized.

RA 10951, however, includes grey areas that may become pitfalls or traps for media people who may circulate articles or information from “legitimate sources” that may actually be fake news. Anonymity has thus taken a new perilous twist under this new law.

What actually constitutes fake news? The concept is at best vague and imprecise. Satires which are actually half-truths, do not carry the whole gamut of facts. As a figure of speech, it is meant to tease and draw attention. It drives home a message laced with humor, and often is commercially attractive.

Provincial papers may encounter the larger risk of publishing fake news because with their limited resources, they tend to depend on eye-catching bulletins from free sources. They may need to make drastic adjustments and press releases must now be double-checked for veracity.

The emerging landscape created by fake news in social media, online editions, broadcasts, and periodicals demands more than just the usual diligence journalists invest in handling stories. In this light, journalists need to enhance their dedication and sharpen their focus on news material to avoid libel and its costly, unpalatable, undesirable and dire consequences.

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