Editorial: Censoring the Net-A A +A
Sunday, September 23, 2012
SHOULD the Internet be censored?
Republic Act (RA) 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 recently signed by President Benigno Aquino III, should be examined in the light of hard-earned lessons culled from the period when the country was under Martial Law (ML) and the Marcos regime.
“Never Again!” resonates among those who remember Sept. 21, 1972, when then president Ferdinand E. Marcos imposed Presidential Decree 1081, for the suspension of civil liberties, including the freedom of the press and the right of free expression.
Under the guise of social order and national development, martial law stifled free speech and the press, including criticism, opposition and citizen participation.
Through the concentration of power in Marcos and the military, Philippine society became hostaged to a monopoly of new evils that replaced the old social ills that justified the imposition of martial law.
In place of the oligarchy, the nation struggled under the boot of the conjugal dictatorship and crony capitalism. Asia’s freest and most licentious press was silenced; people had to turn to the alternative mosquito press to know the truth that was sanitized or killed in the establishment media.
A bitter lesson of ML was that at the start, many citizens and sectors favored the imposition of order on the so-called anarchic social situation. The ushering of the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) was hailed by those who saw the incarceration and involuntary disappearances of activists, radicals, journalists, students, teachers and other social critics as necessary to clean up a democracy that had gone haywire.
As immortalized by a protest poem, when the Marcos regime used their uncontested power against citizens and businessmen because they stood in the way, there was no one left to protest these human rights violations.
“Never again” is a cry that remains relevant, especially with the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Sen, Edgardo Angara, its chief proponent, said that RA 10175 will make the virtual world “no longer be a lawless realm.”
The law penalizes offenses like cybersex and child pornography, unsolicited commercial communications or cyber-squatting.
However, a last-minute insertion on online libel is being criticized by mainstream journalists and bloggers for threatening to curtail press freedom and the right to free expression.
During the Sept. 20, 2012 28th regular quarterly meeting of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), Nini Cabaero, editor-in-chief of Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex), observed that RA 10175 provides for a stiffer penalty for online libel than the old law on libel.
According to Elias O. Baquero’s Sept. 21 report in Sun.Star Cebu, Cabaero pointed out the irony that “while media groups in the country push for the decriminalization of libel, another law expands the coverage of libel to online materials”.
Bloggers decry the failure to hold a public hearing on libel in the Internet. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) urge all citizens, not just journalists, to monitor the implementation of a “restrictive mindset” that will censor and obstruct the dissemination of information and expression of opinions on the Internet.
Many netizens, citizen-journalists and non-government organizations use social networking sites to monitor governance and advocate for reforms and better delivery of social services. Their participation complements the watchdog function of traditional or mainstream media. They are also outspoken and effective media monitors.
Critics point out that the provision on Internet libel can be misused by politicians who want to silence online critics. Section 19 of RA 10175 authorizes warrantless site-takedowns by the Department of Justice. The broadness and ambiguity of the cybercrime law’s provisions on online libel can lead to censorship of the Internet and a setback of the democratic gains bought at a steep price from the Marcos era to the present.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 24, 2012.