GMA’s fake news: cowardice of a network

In this age of the Internet, and the powerful artificial intelligence of Google Search, research work has become much too easy that reporting errors of fact, and spreading disinformation, becomes a mortal sin for media organizations and the people working in them.

Hence, it took less than half a day after GMA News published the image of a ship with a trail of murk in its wake — purportedly a Chinese vessel in the Spratly Islands — to be exposed as a fraud, or fake news. GMA News accomplished its evil design: to create a furor over a picture of a ship supposedly spilling tons of human waste in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. That picture accompanied a report on the claim of a U.S.-based company that there has been a rise of human waste dumping by Chinese vessels anchored near the Union Banks, or Pagkakaisa Reefs.

The use of a photograph to illustrate a news report must be accurate, meaning it must either be an actual image showing what is described in the story, or a file picture of a similar event or act. If there is no actual picture, there is usually a clear label “FILE PICTURE” on the face or caption to tell the reader or viewer that it is not a depiction of what the story is about.

Simularity, Inc. did use that picture to accompany its story.

There is nothing in the website report, however, that would tell its reader that the picture was lifted from an Australian newspaper on its story about illegal dredging in the Great Barrier Reefs in October 2014. What was just placed below the story was that the picture’s source is unknown.

Hence, GMA News jumped to its own conclusion that it was an actual photograph of a Chinese vessel dumping human waste and used it to accompany its story. It did not take the editorial caution of verifying first from the source, Simularity. That’s what journalists are taught to do: check and double check. Better to be a little late in putting out the story than commit a factual blunder.

Understandably, the picture, more than the story, provoked an angry response. That was precisely what GMA News had intended to do in the first place: Shock its viewers and readers (on social media).

The line of Senators who are always hungry for media mileage quickly sent out angry statements, demanding government action.

But the furor was about nothing. To quote Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing.”

First, the ship shown in the picture wasn’t a Chinese vessel caught in the act of dumping human waste into the sea within the EEZ. It came from a series of photographs published in The Daily Mail of Australia way back in October 2014. And the murky wake shown in the picture wasn’t human waste; it was spillage from the dredging activities. In this respect, Simularity should take primary blame for failing to state that fact. GMA News is guilty for not double checking.

Simularity was quick to issue a clarification about the wrong use of the picture. It blamed GMA for its failure to check closely on its post. It described GMA as an “irresponsible news organization” and asked it to issue a retraction.

Second, what’s the fuss about human waste being dumped into the sea?

Simularity claims that there has been an increase in algal growth in the reefs OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS because of what it describes as over-abundance of effluent coming from the human waste dumping. This is an important fact that was easily overlooked. And the ugly monkeys of the Liberal Party were quick to scold the Duterte government for failure to stop the Chinese from turning our EEZ into a public toilet.

As Simularity itself stated in its clarification, human waste dumping by sea vessels is COMMON PRACTICE. So why did it attribute the so-called over-abundance of effluent to the anchorage of more than 200 Chinese vessels in the area? It is a blatant act of deception to infuriate Filipinos on the issue of Chinese intrusion into our EEZ. I won’t be surprsied if Simularity is CIA. And part of its mission is instigate Filipinos to look at the Duterte government in bad light.

If these S.O.B.s are indeed concerned about effluent, why didn’t it issue an alarm about the thick algal growth in Boracay? Or to get closer, in the Manila Bay? Can we even compare the human waste production of 200-plus vessels to the output of millions of Filipino families living on the banks of the Pasig and other rivers in Metro Manila? All the poop from the these households are flushed into the Manila Bay, just in case Simularity didn’t know it.

Anyway, GMA surreptitiously removed that offensive picture and pretended as if nothing happened. It didn’t even demonstrate strong journalistic ethics to publish a retraction as suggested by Simularity. Moral cowardice in the media profession is what I call it.