Sunday, December 17, 2017
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Sisyphus’ Lament

Are Mocha, Thinking Pinoy really fake news?

Should everything false be called fake news, distinct from hyperpartisanship, incompetence and obnoxiousness?

First, the narrowest definition captures literally fake news, anonymous websites that mimic real news sites. Think cnn-trending.com pushed by fake accounts and troll armies.

But, second, should we punish all false statements from nonjournalists like Mocha? Should we punish every casual mistake or misunderstanding on Facebook?

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RJ Nieto aka Thinking Pinoy or TP insists that photojournalist Jes Aznar revealed troop positions in Marawi, even after the army itself denied this. But even the wildest conspiracy theorist has freedom of speech.

Should TP be punished because his theory was proven incorrect? Or for libel, because he persists despite the army’s denial? Or because this led to threats against Aznar, and threats go beyond free speech?

Note libel here punishes malice, not just falsity. Free speech requires room for good faith error.

Third comes fake law and fake professional judgment. We cannot spotlight ideas so ignorant of basic doctrine that they would be thrown out of a freshman class in law, medicine, engineering or science.

Frank Lobrigo wrote that Sen. Risa Hontiveros violated the privacy of communication, but prominently omitted all discussion of the basic exceptions to privacy, including freedom of speech. Mocha once cited Article 263 of our Constitution, which only goes to Article 18. TP sometimes writes lengthy analysis on law complete with sources, but in a way a law professor could not accept.

But should we punish the Lobrigos, Mochas and TPs of the world for screwed-up legal analysis itself? Or only for something more, such as malice?

Fourth comes opinion in its purest, vilest, most unadulterated, most slanted form. Freedom of speech exists precisely to protect the most repulsive speech. Polite, flowery words need no protection.

Should Mocha be accountable for never asking for the other side? When confronted with this, she clumsily invoked “self-discrimination” in Sen. Grace Poe’s colorful Senate hearing on fake news last Oct. 4.

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But I would defend Mocha’s right to hyperpartisan opinion. Each time I publicly praised Sen. Bam Aquino for his brilliance and legislative track record, I never asked Mocha for the other side.

Should TP be jailed for his discourteous pictures in front of detained Sen. Leila de Lima’s office door? If I were grilled by senators, I could only give the same answer as TP, that he is entitled to his political opinion. I would not want anyone to restrain ralliers who burn the President’s effigy or students who openly curse Mocha and TP over their government appointments.

Again, the aggrieved can consider libel if they can demonstrate malice. For public officials such as Mocha, they can try to establish an ethics case. Or they can simply reply, the way De Lima’s quick thinking staff posed for their own door picture.

But it is undemocratic to conflate opinion, even baseless opinion, with fake news. For example, I respect how Poe refused to dwell on how the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines classified opinionated, biased TP as fake news.

One cannot invoke free speech against the stupid and the obnoxious in a way that ironically undermines free speech.

* * *

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s spokesperson Josa Deinla clarified (on Facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan) that other than Piatco arbitration fees, Sereno had other income of P3 million total in 2004-2008, not P3 million/year as stated last week.

Thus, Sereno earned roughly P500,000/month from Piatco and P50,000/month from other sources. P50,000/month was the fresh graduate salary in a large law firm then.

Sereno argues that all her past income was either spent or formed part of assets disclosed when she became a justice in 2010. To fact check, one must gauge all income of both Sereno and her husband and their living expenses. But Sereno’s Answer in her impeachment case broke down only her total Piatco income.

May we thus ask for the complete breakdown per year?

React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan.

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TAGS: fake news, free speech, freedom of speech, Mocha Uson, Oscar Franklin Tan, RJ Nieto, Sisyphus’ Lament, Thinking Pinoy
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