Internet libel review urged-A A +A
Sunday, September 30, 2012
CEBU CITY – Starting next week, a law that was intended to stop child pornography and cybersex will take effect. But it will also mean strict penalties for those who commit libel on the Internet.
The Cebu Citizens Press Council (CCPC) “strongly and earnestly” asked President Benigno Aquino III and Congress to review the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which was signed earlier this month.
The council recommended amendments to “objectionable provisions” in Republic Act 101751, especially those on Internet libel and the power of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shut down websites without the need for a court order.
“The provision on Internet libel under the new law violates the constitutional guarantee of free speech and free press, due process of law, and equal protection of the law, aside from being unclear about innocent participants in the conversation on the web,” the CCPC resolution said.
At least five other groups, representing lawyers, bloggers and journalists, have already questioned the law before the Supreme Court.
The new law imposes penalties for “the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”
In its resolution, the CCPC said that the law fails to clearly define Internet libel, “a serious omission since Internet libel, given the technology’s peculiarities, is different from other kinds of libel.”
The resolution, which was certified correct by CCPC Executive Director Pachico A. Seares, was adopted and approved last September 28. Seares is also the public and standards editor of Sun.Star Cebu.
The CCPC is a 15-member council that includes six representatives from the public, two from the academe, two from the broadcast industry, and five newspaper editors representing each of Cebu’s English and Bisaya dailies.
In its resolution, the CCPC said that the law “inexplicably also increases the penalty for computer-related libel.”
The Revised Penal Code imposes six months and a day up to six years in jail; or a fine of P200 to P6,000; or both penalties for a libel conviction.
But the Cybercrime Prevention Act provides for a penalty one degree higher, meaning six to 12 years in jail, in addition to the other penalties.
“It is oppressive and discriminatory as it makes Internet libel a bigger crime than print or broadcast libel. A complainant would use the law, instead of the Revised Penal Code, to go after a journalist whose work is also published online,” the CCPC resolution stated.
The Revised Penal Code defines libel as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”
The CCPC had also passed a resolution on March 24, 2008 urging Congress to retain libel as a crime, but to remove the jail sentence as penalty, “which would temper the law’s harshness without losing accountability.”
This week, it suggested that Congress hold more public hearings, if necessary, so that bloggers, journalists, media organizations, other users of the Internet and technical groups that have studied the Internet can weigh in on the Internet libel provision.
In a recent interview with GMA News, deputy director Luis Teodoro of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the Internet libel proviso could be used to harass bloggers and other users of the Internet.
The House version of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, whose principal authors included Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, does not have a provision on Internet libel. This was introduced in the Senate.
The CCPC resolution said it “agrees with the need to curb excesses in the social media, as it is regulated in mainstream media.”
“But the law on Internet libel must be so crafted as to consider the unique attributes of the platform or vehicle, not only to balance right to free speech against right to protect one’s integrity and privacy, but also to assure enforcement in the new media,” the council said. (EOB of Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 30, 2012.