CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Beware the leaven of fake news bishops say

MANILA (SE): In a June 25 statement Bishop Ruperto Santos, from Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, described fake news as a form of escapism to spread lies, UCAN reported. 
 
“False news is sinfulness,” he said, reminding Filipino workers abroad “to avoid false promises.”
 
The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Archbishop Socrates Villegas, “Christians cannot be part of falsehood, deceit and lies.” 
 
In a pastoral letter on June 21, the archbishop said misinformation is hampering sound decision-making, “many times with disastrous long-term consequences to persons and to communities.”
 
He warned people against fake news and alternative facts, reiterating the Philippine bishops’ concerns over misinformation they say is being spread mostly online, particularly on social media.
 
“Sadly, we see this happen today,” Archbishop Villegas said. “There are persons who have given themselves to the service of reporting what never happened, concealing what really happened and distorting what should be presented in a straightforward manner.”
 
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, media office director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that, since the beginning of the year, the conference has been concerned over the spread of fake news in the country.
 
He said criticism of the bishops’ conference in social media “started when we, especially CBCP News, went very aggressive against the legislation of the Reproductive Health Bill (in 2012) ... but the peak came with the assumption of (the president, Rodrigo) Duterte into office. Most of these are found in the Facebook comments of CBCP News Facebook page.”
 
Archbishop Villegas has been a regular target of social media criticism from the Duterte family.
 
The bishop’s conference has been critical of the Duterte administration’s so-called war on drugs, which began when he took office a year ago. The campaign has resulted in more than 7,000 mostly poor people killed in both police anti-drug operations and unexplained deaths. The bishops also have been very outspoken about the administration’s push to reinstate the death penalty in The Philippines.
 
The president’s approval ratings remain high, with some media analysts attributing the numbers in part to regular social media posts of supporters—whether paid, computer-generated or genuine—and strong online criticism of those who disagree with the administration.
 
Following the CBCP’s January plenary session, the website of the Commission on the Laity published a partial list of 29 of what it deemed fake websites, news sites and blogs.
 
Archbishop Villegas said the Catholic faith “obliges us to refrain from patronising, popularising and supporting identified sources of alternative facts or fake news (and) to rebut and refute falsehood whenever they are in possession of facts and of data.”
 
He also exhorted the faithful to “refuse to be purveyors” and stop the spread of fake news, whether online, in face-to-face conversation or any other form of public communication. Archbishop Villegas also urged them to know how to spot sources of fake news and let others know about them.

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