Bill seeks penalties vs fake news criticized

By Reynard Magtoto

Does a bill that seeks penalties and jail time a better solution against the proliferation of fake news?

According to a Makabayan lawmaker who authors a bill decriminalizing the crime of libel, criminalizing the proliferation of fake news and online misinformation is not the way forward. However, a Senator believes it is high time for the legislative body to pass a bill that will curb the spread of fake news in the country.

On June 22, Senator Joel Villanueva has formally filed anti-fake news bill that seeks to penalize any person or entity who maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread false news or information in print, broadcast or online media.

To Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, the bill seeking to penalize people who spread false information with hefty fines and prison terms is not the correct solution to the proliferation of fake news since it may affect the people’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.

Penalties under the senate bill

Under Senate Bill No. 1492 or An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations, false news or information are those which either intend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.

Any person who will be proven guilty of malicious creation and distribution of false news will face a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5,000,000 and imprisonment ranging from 1 to 5 years.

If the offender is a public official, he or she will be made to pay twice the said amount of fine, and twice the period of imprisonment; and absolute disqualification from holding any public office.

Meanwhile, if a violator was proven to have aided and encouraged the malicious creation and distribution of fake news, he or she will be slapped with a fine ranging from P50,000 to P3,000,000 and imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 3 years. A public official guilty of the said act will be meted out with twice the amount of fine and will have to serve twice the said period of imprisonment; and absolute disqualification from holding any public office.

In addition to that, any mass media enterprise or social media platform that fails, neglects, or refuses to remove false news will be penalized with a fine ranging from P10,000,000 to P20,000,000 and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years.

Pass FOI bill first

The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly according to Senator Villanueva. “Fake news creates impression and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations,” he said.

But Zarate said that the best way to counter fake news is to ensure the people to be well informed of accurate facts.

“What can be done to address fake news is for mainstream and social media practitioners to be objective in reporting events and for Congress to fast track the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill for the Filipino people to know what is truly happening in the country,” he said.

Public officials must be transparent

Recent events involving public officials of the government who failed to validate information also made the spread of false information worse.

“The proliferation of fake news should not be tolerated especially when the public interest is at stake. This is why we want stiffer penalties for erring public officials,” Villanueva explained. He added that public officials must take the moral high ground instead of being the ones to spread false information coming from fake news sites.

It can be noted that recently, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre made false claims wherein he implicated some opposition lawmakers in the conflict in Marawi City. Villanueva is one of the senators who expressed support in the call of his colleagues in the Senate for Aguirre to retract his statements and issue a public apology.

Also in May 2017, General Eduardo Ano, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ordered a probe on the complaint against soldiers who posted their comments following a fake news posted online.

Meanwhile, Sen. Leila M. De Lima urged the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media to look into the Philippine News Agency (PNA)’s recent lapses and enable it to be a more independent and responsible state-run news agency.

De Lima said on June 22 that PNA should be held accountable for disseminating fake news that claim that 95 out of 105 nations agree there were no extrajudicial killings in the country.

The PNA came under fire after it reported that 95 nations in the 27th Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council were convinced that there were no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. The said report was later on rebutted, forcing PNA to issue a public apology.

The agency also drew flaks for reporting on the challenges of soldiers in the Marawi siege, using a photo taken in Vietnam from Wikimedia Commons, a free-for-all media repository of digital images.

It is not new that fake news has gained currency mainly because of easy accessibility of social media. According to ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, misinformation, propaganda, and malicious speech have been around for as long as there’s been mass media.

“For the most part, they fall within freedom of expression,” Tinio said. “Nevertheless, there are already existing laws that penalize abuse of this right, such as laws on libel or the code of ethics of government officials.”

“The fake news bill in the Senate takes an overly broad definition of “fake news” and thus could substantially limit the right to free expression and freedom of the press. The proliferation of fake news is better countered through education, self-regulation by the mass media, and judicious application of existing laws,” Tinio added. (BaretangBikolnon.com)

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