‘Officials need to prove malice’

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014


THE Philippine Constitution, a lawyer said, guarantees freedom of expression.

But it should not be abused especially by social media users, said Raymond Fortun.

Fortun, who became famous as counsel of former President Joseph Estrada during the impeachment trial in 2000, said social media users should be cautious in posting their messages.

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He said the public should not be afraid in voicing out their criticisms against public officials.

“We are protected by the public figure doctrine,” he said.

Actual malice

The public officials, he said, must prove actual malice on the part of the news media or individuals in order to prevail in a libel suit.

“They should prove that there was actual malice if they file complaints,” said Fortun.

He said social media users should avoid defaming private citizens because the law assumes malice. The person who is charged must prove he has no malice in making a defamatory statement.

Fortun was among the three speakers of the forum “Hashtag Generation,” organized by the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) School of Law in partnership with Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter and SM City Cebu.

The other speakers were Rep. Joseph Ace Durano (Cebu Province, fifth district), who spoke about the importance of social media in crafting laws, and Rappler.com reporter Natashya Gutierrez, who discussed how social media can promote youth empowerment.

Law

Much of Fortun’s discussion was anchored on Republic Act (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which was recently declared as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Fortun was recently the subject of scathing comments in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, while doing his job as a spokesperson for Deniece Cornejo and Cedric Lee.

Lee’s group was accused of mauling of actor Vhong Navarro after the latter allegedly raped Cornejo inside a condominium.

Fortun has resigned from being the spokesperson.

The lawyer said a person can be charged with libel if he names the person he is defaming and changes the picture of a person to discredit him.

A person living abroad, he said, can be charged if he wrote a damaging article that was read in the Philippines through the Internet.

To avoid being charged with libel, Fortun said a person must not name the individual he is attacking.

He furter said blogs that contain satirical news and changes the names of public figures into funny sounding names are not libelous.

“It’s for fun,” he said. “There is no criminal intent to defame.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 06, 2014.

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