Everyday, media advances the literacy of citizens by enabling them to critically understand issues, evaluate its content, and communicate a whole range of social and political situations.

In absorbing information, the public learns to identify which sources to trust. This is essential in building citizens capable of democratic engagement. A media that serves the public interest becomes a trusted space. About fifty years ago, when radio was the quickest way of information tool, a farmer who lived in a remote village received news to come down to the city because a family member or relative needed help.

Today’s media, however, hovers between the information-disinformation/misinformation divide. There are organizations who freely claim to be “media” yet do not qualify to be called as such when they become sources of hate speech, disinformation and propaganda.

A very prominent example of that kind of media is Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) founded by the controversial Apollo Quiboloy. As many of us know by now, Quiboloy has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Santa Ana, California for – let the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted List say it — conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion and sex trafficking of children; sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion; conspiracy; and bulk cash smuggling.

SMNI operates two television networks – one based in Davao City that broadcasts on uninterrupted 24-hour service, and the Makati-based SMNI News Channel. Aside from being controversial because of its link to Quiboloy who is its founder, SMNI is as equally divisive for openly advocating red-tagging, false claims and attacks on other media organizations.

When a media outfit uses red-tagging where media should not and never should not, it allows itself to be a dangerous tool of harassment to silence government critics, journalists, activists and opposition candidates. When it uses propaganda, it ceases to be media. When it lies, it should never be in the airwaves at all.

In the campaign for the last presidential elections, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility recorded nine instances between March 10 to April 26 when SMNI red-tagged cause-oriented groups and called Leni Robredo and Francis Pangilinan as the candidates of the Communist Party of the Philippines. SMNI had nothing to say when Rodrigo Duterte shouted “Mabuhay ang New Peoples’ Army” when he campaigned for president in 2016. In simple terms, SMNI is a pro-Duterte propaganda network that exists for a partisan, not public service, purpose. 

Of late, the ex-president has been given his own talk show that features his usual endless monologues. SMNI has also in the past given talk show slots for the infamous fake news blogger RJ Nieto (Thinking Pinoy on SMNI), congressmen Rodante Marcoleta and Mike Defensor (Point of Order) at the time when they were the main protestants in Congress against the franchise of ABS-CBN. They have continued their tirades even a year after the franchise was denied. Goodness gracious.

At the time of the last presidential campaign, the CMFR noted SMNI’s dubious reporting of candidate Bongbong Marcos’s fake academic credentials and gossip about Robredo.

SMNI has the most failing marks from independent fact checkers. For the record, it has been fact checked by – hold your breath — Altermidya, Baguio Chronicle (Quiboloy lied that Robredo asked SMNI for advance questions for its presidential debate), this publication’s PressOne.PH (Duterte lied that that no Marcos stolen money has been found), Interaksyon, Vera Files, FactRakers, Akademiya at Bayan Kontra Disimpormasyon at Dayaan (ABKD), Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), and Fact Check Philippines. The reader is encouraged to open the links.

It uses propaganda masquerading as fake news. For example, SMNI News said Bongbong Marcos ”passed” his bachelor’s degree at the University of Oxford.

SMNI has a standing detestation against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, calling her a liar. The network uses hate words such as “presstitute” (portmanteau of press and prostitute, “bayaran” “biased.” The SMNI Facebook page counted a following of 900,000 in 2022. Comments from netizens who appear to be Duterte supporters echo the attacks against journalists, some justifying violence, by sharing the fake content.

Last October, SMNI and the Philippine Army signed a Memorandum of Partnership Agreement to push back against the “massive recruitment and resource generation” by “communist terrorist groups” in both virtual and real spaces. It states SMNI was chosen because it is the only national television network that envisions “zero insurgencies.”

A government institution wants to beautify its image and then weaponize that image against its perceived enemies through a private media firm with a doubtful record. But the best government propaganda is accomplishing its public service mandate without using the television network of the “appointed son of god” and “owner of the universe.”