Unless reversed by a higher court, the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and its former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. will further shrink not only the democratic space for free expression and press freedom but also the people’s right to be informed on matters relevant to their lives as citizens and as human beings.
The Parliament of Singapore passed last May a law against uploading and spreading false information. It requires online media platforms any government ministry accuses of carrying “fake news” to correct or remove the offending material, and penalizes those responsible with 10-year prison terms and fines of up to one million Singapore dollars (about US$740,000). The bad news is that the Philippine Congress could do the same thing.
Asked if he caused the February 13 arrest of Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had nothing to do with it, and that he did not “relish picking on her.” He also said he did not know Wilfredo Keng, whose complaint that he had been libeled by the online news site led to the Ressa arrest.
Whether they’re in the opposition or administration side, the distinguished senators of this endangered Republic, who’re otherwise hopelessly fractious, share one thing: their hatred for “fake news” — and a consequent, irrepressible urge to penalize its disseminators.
That’s what last week’s hearings on the subject led by the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media chaired by Senator Grace Poe suggests, among other equally troublesome implications on press freedom, free expression, and the little that’s left of Philippine democracy.
IN a meeting with representatives of some member organizations of the Right to Know Right Now coalition campaigning for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Nueva Ecija Congressman Rodolfo Antonino refused to remove the Right of Reply (ROR) rider in a bill on FOI he has introduced in the 15th Congress.
His fellow representatives, said Antonino, want that rider in any FOI act that’s passed to guarantee that if the media were to report anything about them that puts them in a bad light, they would be able to present their side, or to correct an error in reporting. When told that fairness by presenting both sides of a controversy or issue, and in accusations of wrong doing, the alleged wrongdoer’s denial and explanation, is an ethical principle in journalism practice, Antonino flung at the journalists present the charge that media self-regulation doesn’t work, thus the need to compel media fairness through law.