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#STOPFAKENEWS: Mr. Michael Lopez Discusses Raging Issue on Modern Day Journalism

Posted on Saturday the 12th of August 2017

By: Veronica Talucod

Fake news has become commonplace. It's everywhere - on Facebook, Twitter, maybe even on Instagram; people don't have to scroll too far down to find a hoax or misleading article written by a deceitful - perhaps even biased - journalist who is merely seeking public engagement. This is most probably why, in celebration of the Philippine Independence Day, the Alliance of Filipino Journalists in Qatar arranged a free seminar on "Global Issues on Journalism and Media Practices" with the honourable Mr. Michael Francis Acebedo Lopez as the guest speaker. Teachers, journalists, and students gathered in City Centre Rotana, Doha on the 27th of June to converse on how the quality of Filipino journalism can be improved despite these kinds of controversies bringing it down.
"Technology - the internet, social media - has given birth to a phenomenon and this is what I chose to focus on: Fake News… During World Press Freedom Day in Paris, there was a consensus that fake news was the biggest issue confronting journalism today"
Mr. Michael Lopez, a man of many accomplishments (being the youngest board member of the MTRCB and youngest delegate of the United Nations General Assembly only a few of them), began his lecture by defining fake news as articles that "intend to propagate hoaxes and sow disinformation", and differentiated fake news from humorous satire, lampoon, and real opinions.
Sir Lopez also equalled #FakeNews to Frankenstein's Monster, explaining that people who are supposedly veterans or experts in the world of Journalism refuse to acknowledge that they themselves had, at least once, contributed to the cultivation of this problem's growth; instead, they chalk it up to technology and point fingers at the naive and unmindful. Mainstream media has to own up to its mistakes and take some of the blame for the unfortunate spread of fake news. He then moved on to declare that as tremendous of an issue fake news is, it's only "a symptom of a far bigger problem: people's distrust towards media". The trust issues aren't fallacious, especially after considering the fact that even mainstream media outlets like the Inquirer and Rappler are guilty of it and have had their fair share of extremely misleading articles. Traditional media seems to have developed an allergy to self-analysis; not to say that its credibility is completely unfounded, but it's about high time that mainstream media took a step back and started fostering a more introspective nature.
"Back to Basics
• Multi-sourcing
• Accuracy over speed
• Revisit the Rules of Engagement: Code of Ethics, Guidelines in Covering Conflict (CMFK)
• Vet, vet, vet"

After Mr. Michael Lopez delivered his educated lecture, a more conversational dialogue was held. The teachers, journalists, and students were given the opportunity to raise their questions and opinions.
Q: How do you feel about ABS-CBN exaggerating the situation in Qatar?
A: A half-truth is a whole lie. First of all, I was trying not to see any news in relation to that because I was coming here. I don't want to hear about issues like that because my family and friends are concerned and of course, I'm concerned because I can't be too careless and foolhardy… I cannot comment much on that because I haven't seen the news article, but some mainstream media organizations are really given to exaggeration. It's unfortunate that that's the way they are and that's why I'm saying these things contribute to people's distrust. We can't do much except to call them out and to correct these people of their mistaken notions. So if that happens, get your Facebook, switch live on… it's the most that we can do now.
Q: Can you recommend URLs or credible sources that really don't publish fake news?
A: Well, it's hard, because I will still recommend the established mainstream media organizations because sometimes it's just one writer that's very biased. Yeah, worst case is (that it's the) editorial board or the owners but at the end of the day, they can still be called to task. There's a mechanism for correcting. And if they're wrong, they are bound by the code of ethics, the code of conduct of journalism.
Q: Is there any punishment that they can give for spreading fake news? Because in the small mediawe get banned from reporting, etc.
A: Well now, karma is instant - karma is digital. Even without a mechanism in place, when you're a journalist and people call you out, that's already a punishment in itself. But a more institutionalized punishment especially for foreign media and international media, I'm not very familiar (with). But in the absence of such, that's why we have this; we have flagrant abuse of the press. In the Philippines there is, but in international media, others are media analysts, like in Forbes. Some people are paid there, not by Forbes. Some are financial analysts, risk analysts, and they're paid by their government or by companies for their analysis and for them to write about their analysis in publications by Forbes. You can't really do anything about it; that is opinion - you can just dispute it. They can get away especially if they're editorializing. It's a matter of perspective.
Q: So Sir, do you mean that there are no demerits?
A: Well you can write - you can always write - and I personally do that if I do not agree with how something's presented. I have written to Time magazine - I don't know if they've done something about it, if they're gonna do something about it, if there's a mechanism to correct it - they have not written me back but at least for me, I've done my part. For now, what we can do is write and try to correct something if we feel it was unfair, if we feel it's fake, or if there's an angle that they failed to explore, but I think… I do not have the answer there; I think it depends on the media organization, what they have, because ethics should be taught, anyway.
Q: Sir if I remember it well, back in the Philippines, with the case of Mrs. Korina Sanchez, I think there was a violation committed by Korina and ABS-CBN didn't say she was suspended but she was asked to have a vacation leave - I think it took her a month - and she was replaced by another anchor.
A: It depends on the media organization; probably to save face because she will return from suspension, her credibility might be questioned. And she's a prized news personality to ABS. I'm not saying that's the situation for it, I'm just surmising that as a business decision, you punish her for her mistake, but you do not compromise her credibility in the eyes of people. And again, it's case to case - it depends on the media organization. But if for example: Rappler, who will police Maria Ressa? She's the owner.
Q: So in the Philippines there are no (negative consequences)?
A: There are organizations like KBP; if you'll remember Mocha was suspended from her radio program, but that is debatable. They wanted her to take a test but she doesn't need it. But at a press con at the AFJQ Radyo ng Bayan, I was asked about professionalizing - further - journalism; taking board exams for it, licensure exams. I somewhat agree. I think I agree. Even the veteran journalists now, you see them abusing discretion; if they take it now, wherever they may have studied, they might fail. So it's better for them to have licenses, if only to have it revoked. So I agree. Whatever your educational background is, whether you're Journalism, Mass Communication, self-taught, you can take it, and if you pass it you can practice. I'm not saying that there should and must be, but maybe, in light of all of these situations, talk about it and start considering licensure examinations. There are mechanisms within organizations but the rules aren't as strict and imposing on violations. Maybe that's why we have people who abuse.
Q: Would you consider fake news as a form of plagiarism? Because sometimes the actual context is being distorted.
A: Sometimes there's no basis at all. In certain cases, but let's just treat plagiarism as plagiarism and fake news as fake news. The intention of plagiarism is different; the intention of plagiarism is to copy or to claim as your own someone else's work. Fake news is meant to sow disinformation, to mislead. Maybe fake news is plagiarised, but ultimately, they're two different monsters. But there's a lot of plagiarism now in social media. That's a debate now - attribution. Do you attribute? Does it become public property because somebody has posted it or it's already on the internet? As for me I attribute. If I don't know who to attribute I still put "meme not mine" or "reposted meme". Practice it; that's practicing some personal standards of journalism. It's habit for me; so that you don't just claim and claim. Because if you just post something and it goes viral and you didn't make the meme or cartoon, you're dishonourable. You're taking credit of something you didn't put together nor create. Put your sources.
Q: I think we should have a law; we should have demerits for those writers who deliver fake news.
A: I remember congress talking about exploring a law like that, against fake news. I think it was Senator Villanueva? He wants to pass a law against fake news. But I guess a better solution - because like I said, fake news is a symptom; let's say you have an infection, it's like you just drank Paracetamol, when really, it should've been an antibiotic, because Paracetamol will mask the symptom of the fever without addressing the infection. So Villanueva's proposal against fake news limits public discourse, it limits freedom of expression and thought, without actually addressing why this has come about - people want more factual news than sensationalized news. So it could be addressed, it could be better addressed, with what you're saying - a law that would demand higher journalistic standards from our media practitioners, not attacking fake news. If we higher our standards for journalists in the Philippines, for mainstream media, for traditional media, then the opportunities to sensationalize, to report biased news, etc. will lower and eventually would kill fake news. Because the trust returns, and there is a mechanism. So if there is a law it has to be revisited, amended, and if not, it has to be passed. In my opinion, that is how to address fake news.
Q: Is it safe to assume that GMA is more credible than other sources?
A: I'm not going to condemn a particular media organization. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I'm not even going to condemn Rappler - like I said, it's a very good business model. I mean, we can always say ABS is biased, GMA is biased, or Inquirer is biased, because the owner did this, because there oligarths, etc. But like I said, I would still recommend mainstream media organizations. They all have, in their ranks, very good journalists, very incredible journalists; in ABS-CBN I follow the reporter RJ Cruz, because I know from experience that he has been very fair, even from two administrations ago. Really, we cannot be making hasty generalizations for or against media organizations. As for me, it's case to case - I do not like ABS for this, I do not like Inquirer for this story, I do not like Rappler for this story, but I still share from Rappler, would you believe? And for example, again, let us distinguish from fake news and real opinion; even people we disagree with politically have real opinions. Let's not stick to one side. Let's encourage dynamic conversations, elevating the level of discourse. If we are just in an antechamber of likeminded people, our minds don't get stimulated. It's good to read the opinions of someone who doesn't agree with yours. It's either you agree or take the argument a step further and a notch higher.
Q: What's the status now with regards to the fake news bill, if there is one?
A: Well, it was just in the news recently, and well, it's still a bill. It's not yet a law. It will go through a lot of committee hearings, public consultations, and that's why we're having this. And the fake news bill can just as easily transform or evolve into a more encompassing responsible media bill. Maybe we can ask congress to do that. I'm not saying it was wrong for Senator Villanueva to propose; it's a suggestion up for debate, up for discussion, and fine tuning. It's a long process. Coming up with a law is a very long process. As of yet, it is a proposal; that's what I know. It's good that this is happening; it's good that we're talking, and what's nice is that the public is fighting back. We're saying, "Hey! You cannot tell us what to do; you cannot shove it down our throats." And that is why we are proposing this. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let's just continue the debate. There's a synthesis, hopefully.
Q: Is there any advice you want to give any aspiring journalists, especially millennials?
A: Millennials can be overdramatic - follow your passion, free spirit - and I relate to that. But what I don't relate to, in relation to the advice, is instant gratification. I'm all about delayed gratification. True love waits, even if it's 12 or 13 years. Delayed gratification goes back to what I said earlier: accuracy over speed. Millennials have gotten so used to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, real time data, and all of these things. I'm so lucky that we semi-millennials, we got the best of both worlds. We reached the time when kids would ride on bikes and play hide and seek, langit lupa, patintero, SuperMario; we had a good balance, we were young enough to absorb new technology like the iPhone. We transitioned, almost gracefully, seamlessly, and we were the ones who taught our parents. The generation after us, the younger millennials, were not able to enjoy the last few pieces of the old word, of the outdoors, of waiting for Kodak. Because of your culture, you have been wired to embrace everything instant, and that being ingrained in your mindset may - I'm not saying will - have an effect on your mindset; on how you, as an aspiring journalist, report things, because you think that everything must be instant and everything must be fast. Try to practice delayed gratification: accuracy over speed. Yeah, use the technology, but don't abuse it, and don't let it get to you and affect your own personal core values.
Q: I think my concern now, because I'm an English teacher, because my students are exposed to fake news, how do I encourage them to enter the world of journalism?
A: First of all, ABS-CBN and GMA7, to be fair - as a matter of company policy - they do not encourage fake news. That's not in their policy nor is it enshrined in their vision and mission to be the leading source of fake news. It's not them, but some people there do not practice journalism as they should and the fact that it's happening and the fact that that is the status quo makes for an excellent argument in support of asking young people to do a better job. There is a need. There is a demand. We need and we demand better journalists. And if you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, then better to do. And I'm very optimistic here because these are young people who are growing up in this environment where there is fake news. You have young people emerging from their shells, entering the real world - whether as journalists or not - more critical minded. So now, it's really more about critical thinking and encouraging debate.
Q: As a writer, was there a point in your life when you were tempted or encouraged to write fake news? Why?
A: I say what I feel, what I know in my heart is right. Doing otherwise will drive me mad. Even if it's not the truth, even it's the form; back when Facebook didn't have the edit option, even if it's just one grammatical error, even if it's just one letter, even if it reaches 300 likes, I will delete it. Because truth of the matter is, that's the wrong way to write it. I will correct it if I know it's wrong. Of course I'm not perfect, of course I'll make grammatical lapses in the spoken and written word, but if I can see it, I will not leave it there; I will correct it. That's my commitment to the truth or to doing it the right way. I even got into trouble with my former boss because of that. I even lost my post, because I couldn't compromise doing what I knew was right. If I make a mistake unwittingly, then I will delete it, apologize, and say I made a mistake. But willingly? Wittingly? No way! I'd rather die, so no.

Seemingly small fake news can potentially bring a lot of harm into people's lives; the right information can save a life, but the wrong information can destroy one. Journalists must forget all ill, political, prejudiced, and self-serving intentions, be more scrupulous with the articles they write, and carry every process out with precise attention. As Philippine School Doha's motto goes, "Knowledge Begets Wisdom", and wholeheartedly embracing and/or feeding false information will only beget foolish ignorance.