Government news agency slammed for “fake news”

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Government news agency slammed for "fake news"
This photo shared on the government owned news website PNA purported to show a soldier in Marawi City, however, it actually dates from the Vietnam War.

The government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) vowed to tighten up procedures after a photo from the Vietnam war was used to illustrate an article about the Marawi City crisis.

In a statement, the PNA said: “Rest assured we have dealt with our erring personnel and that we are reviewing our procedures on reportage as we continue to uphold our commitment to deliver accurate and balanced news reports to the Filipino people and the world.”

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Yesterdat (Monday, May 29) the PNA’s website used a photo of a soldier on patrol for a report headed: “Urban warfare a challenge for soldiers in Marawi.”

However, sharp-eyed readers soon pointed out that the picture was not taken in Marawi City but sourced from Wikimedia Commons — where it is clearly captioned as a soldier during the Vietnam War.

Government news agency slammed for "fake news"
The picture from Wikimedia Commons entitled “vietconghunt” and captioned: “Troops of A Company, First Air Cavalry Division checking houses during patrol”

“Upon learning of the error, we immediately took the photo down but not before it was shared by our readers and subscribers,” said the PNA.

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As we reported, the PNA was also forced to admit its error after it claimed 95 out of 105 nations agreed there were no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The story about the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was at odds with the fact that China was a lone voice in support of the government’s drug war.

The PNA maintained that it never intended to spread “fake news”.

“While there have been lapses in our judgment, it has never been the policy of PNA to tolerate erroneous report, and it has certainly never been our intention to sow misinformation, much less share what is termed nowadays as ‘fake news’.

”We regret that these mistakes have cast doubt on our integrity as a news agency,” the agency added.

Also under fire for sharing questionable information was ‘sexy dancer’ turned assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, Mocha Uson.

She recently posted a picture to Facebook of armed men apparently kneeling in prayer, with a call for people to “pray for the Philippine Army”.

However, the picture actually showed Honduran police officers.

Government news agency slammed for "fake news"
“Let’s pray for our army” – but these men are neither Filipinos, nor soldiers.

Ms Uson has defended her post, saying she never said the men were Filipino soldiers, and the photo was purely used as “symbolism”.

“Please use common sense,” she said. “My caption was, ‘let’s pray for our soldiers’. I didn’t say those are our soldiers.”

The press pack crowded outside Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s office today, hoping for a statement on the series of misleading posts. However, he refused to come out and face reporters.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has today called on presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella to do something about PNA spreading fake news.

In a statement, Ryan Rosauro, NUJP chairman, said it was “disingenuous of Mr Abella to address his appeal solely to – presumably private – media and not include the government’s own news outfits and, especially, the default ‘official sources’ in the civil and security establishments who have often been at loggerheads, making often contradictory pronouncement and, worst, deliberately spreading wrong or totally false information even before the start of the emergency that prompted the declaration of martial law over Mindanao.”

The statement came after Abella warned independent media to stop the spread of “unverified or incomplete news items” on Marawi City and all ongoing current issues.

Mr Rosauro also reminded Abella of President Duterte’s erroneous claim that the chief of police in Marawi City had been beheaded.

These were the reasons why the NUJP found it “utterly despicable of Mr Abella and AFP spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla to warn of fake news and threaten censorship or even arrests – to do so is nothing but a bald threat against the freedom of the press and of free expression.”

The statement continued: “No, sirs, you have no call to tell us what or what not, when or when not, to report, especially not if the very government and institutions you serve, which we are obliged to treat as official sources, cannot even ensure the accuracy of the information your provide.”

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