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Fake news a sin, say bishops

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the first time has called on Filipinos to defend the truth against fake news, which it says is a sin that prevents people from making the right choices and decisions.

In a pastoral letter issued late Wednesday and signed by the CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the bishops urged Filipinos to refuse to be “purveyors” and disseminators of fake news on social media, by word of mouth or other forms of public expression.

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“Not only does [fake news] offend against the orientation of the human intellect to the truth. It is, more fundamentally, a sin against charity because it hinders persons from making right and sound decisions and induces them, instead, to make faulty ones,” the CBCP said.

Villegas, in an earlier statement, said fake news had become a challenge to the Catholic Church’s mission to evangelize.

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 ‘Alternative facts’

Fake news also has been used by “trolls” to make “martyrs” and “punching bags” out of Church leaders who have criticized the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and plans to revive the death penalty, Villegas said.

“Our Catholic faith obliges us to refrain from patronizing, popularizing and supporting identified sources of ‘alternative facts’ or ‘fake news,’” he said.

“Alternative facts and fake news engender faulty decisions many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities,” he added.

Villanueva bill

Last week, Sen. Joel Villanueva filed a bill that would impose stiff penalties on people spreading fake news, which “cause or tend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, hate or must exhibit or tend to exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.”

The bill would make it unlawful for any person to “maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate and spread false news or information or cause the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of  the same in print, broadcast and online media.”

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Fine, imprisonment

A person found to have spread fake news could be fined up to P5 million and imprisoned for one to five years under Villanueva’s proposed law.

A public official guilty of the offense would  face double that penalty while a news organization or social media platform that would fail or refuse to take down false news would be fined P10 million to P20 million and its top officers would be jailed for up to 20 years.

Villanueva said Senate Bill No. 1492, which he filed on June 17, was in response to the numerous fake social media accounts that spread fake news during the 2016 national elections, leading  to divisions and misunderstandings among Filipinos.

Wrong info

The bill followed criticisms of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II who linked Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino to the siege of Marawi City based on wrong information, including an old photograph that was not even taken in the city.

Aguirre has not publicly apologized for making the incriminating statements against the two senators.

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, fake news, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Philippine news updates
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