“Ang ginagawa ko, di po ako journalist…”
— Mocha Uson, PCOO assistant secretary who also writes a blog, during Senate hearing on bill seeking to criminalize fake news

THERE’S no universally accepted definition of a journalist. Standards and definitions vary. Each group or sector engaged in communication or with media has its own concept of what a journalist is.

Even courts. In the 2011 ruling of an Oregon federal judge, seven requirements were laid down for one to be deemed a journalist to enjoy the protection of a shield law for media. Montana blogger Crystal Cox, who was sued for calling a lawyer a thug and a thief, was not a journalist, he ruled. Archaic definition, snorted some journalists.

Uson’s defense

Mocha Uson, a blogger who became an assistant secretary in the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO), wouldn’t pass most of the U.S. judge’s criteria. Under local standards, she insisted she was not a journalist, even using it as excuse for not behaving like one.

In this week’s hearing on the bill seeking to criminalize fake news, Sen. Bam Aquino asked Uson why she had not sought the side of the people she castigated in her blog. “I’m not a journalist, po,” she repeatedly said. But journalist or not, it’s wrong for her to use fake news in her blog. As a PCOO official, it was incongruous and weird. No, Aquino didn’t tell her that but maybe he should have.

Not the issue

The issue is fake news: producing or trafficking fake news is wrong. Will the proposal before the Senate committee not impinge on free speech and free press? Will it work?

Uson was asked, predictably, about her blogs that offended a number of senators who belong to the minority and at times criticize President Duterte.

More time was spent on Uson’s failure to be balanced in her writing. The senators could’ve dwelt more on (1) whether PCOO could wage propaganda for the administration without peddling lies and (2) how PCOO, which vowed to fight fake news, could do it effectively when bloggers it has hired are accused of the same offense.

Won’t give up blogs

Most unlikely that anyone of the PCOO’s bloggers would give up their blogs. PCOO itself wouldn’t want to abandon its arsenal, which proved efficient during the 2016 election campaign and could be useful against “the enemies of the state.” They hired Uson for her help in getting the president elected and her current high value as blog writer with a large following.

Sen. Nancy Binay told Uson she had to choose between blogging and working for PCOO. Advice given but not necessarily adopted. The senators can set a more modest goal instead: keep the artillery fire, funded by taxpayer’s money, away from the lawmakers and if that can’t be avoided, at least not to use fake news as ammunition.

Don’t use lies

Senator Bam scored Uson’s failure to meet the journalism rule on balance. And her reply about not being a journalist indicates she’s not about to become one and embrace journalism gospels.

PCOO chief Martin Andanar recognized the harm that bloggers could do when last August he said he’d encourage non-government bloggers it would accredit to follow standards of journalism.

As to Uson and other bloggers under him, he could order them — if they’d take his word. One such blogger (not Mocha) told the senators, the government “needs us more than we need them.”

Bloggers ‘cannot have it both ways’

A 2004 exchange between blogger Markos Moulitsas of “Daily Kos” and writer Zachary Roth of the “Washington Monthly,” posted in Columbia Journalism Review, should give an idea how bloggers differ from journalists. In gist, what they said:

MOULITSAS: You’d apply standards and ethics to blogging, which doesn’t have rules? Blogs are the wild, wild west of the media and bloggers are journalistic outlaws. Not bound by journalistic ethics. Each blogger makes his own rules. Our readers draw our borders. And here’s hilarious: We can get to police traditional media on rules they set for themselves even as we gleefully flaunt those rules. The fact that we are blogs lets us get off the hook.

ROTH: It’s blogger’s prerogative to do whatever they want to do. But we get to call it what it is. Those in traditional media submit to rules because it was gradually agreed that the press, like public officials, also influence conduct of public affairs. Bloggers cannot have it both ways: they cannot have the rewards of having a voice in public debate and the rewards of a two-year-old who just realizes he can break things.

Roth is right, except on one thing. In this country, bloggers cannot do whatever they want to do. We have the penal code and the cyber-crime law and maybe a fake news law. Bloggers may be outlaws but if they commit libel, contempt or inciting to sedition, if identified or identifiable, they can be dragged to court. Even in the wild  west, many outlaws were gunned down by marshals and sheriffs.

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