Pros, cons of new bill discussed

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Thursday, December 6, 2012


A NEW bill that seeks to help citizens meet the challenges of navigating cyberspace could be a double-edged sword for journalists.

During the Cebu Citizens-Press Council’s (CCPC) 29th quarterly meeting yesterday, Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla) president Elias Espinoza said Senate Bill (SB) 3327, or “The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom,” is favorable to journalists because unlike the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines (RPC), it does not provide for imprisonment for Internet libel.

Under Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s bill filed last Nov. 12, only civil liability will arise.

Under SB 3327, malice is also not presumed, said Espinoza, unlike in the RPC, where malice is presumed with every defamatory imputation “if no good intention and justifiable motive” is shown.

But during discussions at the MBF Cebu Press Center, The Freeman editor John Rey Saavedra raised the prospect of a reporter being prosecuted under both the RPC and the Magna Carta if his article printed in the newspaper also appeared on the Internet.

Sun.Star Cebu columnist and Cemla vice chairman Frank Malilong Jr. warned that in such cases, reporters might be charged with two separate crimes.

Asked what bloggers had to say about this, Ruben Licera Jr., president of the Cebu Bloggers Society Inc., said Cebu bloggers were “100 percent against the implementation of the anti-cybercrime law.”

TRO

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, passed in September, provides for a penalty one degree higher for Internet libel than that provided for other forms of libel.

In October, the Supreme Court issued a 120-day temporary restraining order on its implementation after the law’s constitutionality was challenged.

Licera said there are currently no rules governing social media, but bloggers should be “held accountable for what they say.”

He said bloggers should not claim to be journalists because journalists receive training in reporting that bloggers do not get.

Innopub Media co-founder and Sun.Star Cebu business editor Max Limpag said many social media users don’t go out to be journalists since they report on events only to their clique.

“But when they take on the mantle of reporting, they must also take on the responsibility of journalism,” he said.

Commenting on bloggers who also cover events, Licera said he lamented the bad reputation some bloggers had received as “loot baggers,” or people who attend events so they can receive the loot bags handed out at such events.

He said this practice of bloggers was also enabled by some public relations practitioners.

Licera said no bloggers’ code of ethics is written, but bloggers are encouraged to “be honest and fair, minimize harm, and be accountable.”

Motivation

While journalists are accountable to their media outlets and audience, however, the
system of accountability is not clear for bloggers.

Evanjohnn Mendoza, social media manager of the Cebu Provincial Government, said even without clear rules for social media users, erring bloggers could be chastised by the community of bloggers who can simply counter with their own online comments any wrong information provided by erring bloggers.

But Cebu Daily News publisher Eileen Mangubat said it would be better for bloggers to know their motivation for writing.

“If it’s not clear to you, then you’ll have a problem on who you’re accountable to,” she said.

Online responsibility

Licera acknowledged the many issues social media has brought, including cyber bullying and invasion of privacy. Yet, he was uncomfortable with bloggers being regulated.

He urged social media users to be responsible online, saying all tweets in the microblogging site Twitter since 2006 have been “stored in the Library of Congress.”

He said his group encourages its members to practice social responsibility by blogging about their communities.

In the 2013 election, Cebu bloggers will send photos and information from certain sites. He said they will test the system during the Sinulog festivities in January.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2012.

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