Letter to the editor: Expansion of Sotto Law

LAST month, President Rodrigo Duterte signed and approved the expansion of the Sotto Law or Republic Act 11458. This is known as the act expanding the coverage of exemptions from revealing the source of published news or information obtained in confidence by including journalists from broadcast, and news agencies. The following paragraphs state my opinion on the matter in the perspective of a law student

RA 11458 states that, “any publisher, owner, or duly recognized o accredited journalist, columnist, manager, media practitioner involved in the writing, editing, production and dissemination of news for mass circulation of any print, broadcast, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including cable TV and its variants” can only reveal the source of his/her information if “the court or the House of Representatives or the Senate or any committee of Congress finds that such revelation is demanded by the security of the State.”

This law is indeed important in the welfare of journalists. The law highlights the crucial role of journalists in dealing with sources whose identity cannot be revealed but whose quotes are highly essential in the pursuit of a huge story.

Obtaining information from a source who wishes not to reveal himself takes on a negative effect on the account that the audience loses information regarding the identity of the source, and thus, the knowledge of the source’s credibility or trustworthiness. However, it should be noted that for the reason of national security and since an assassination in itself is an indication of a threat to destabilize the government, journalists should be able to reveal their source's identity. They should not have prioritized their being a journalist at the moment when they are summoned to court since they are then obliged to be of assistance to the government in solving a crime.

In the same way, the negative use of confidentiality to advance a journalist or an institution’s personal gain should also be noted. This happens when the legitimate purposes of the confidentiality agreements are corrupted and tainted with greed. In the case of national concern, the court has a right to be skeptical and to scrutinize journalists' source.

Particular justice is relevant to confidential sourcing insofar as it guides one in determining whether a confidential agreement is worth making or breaking in a given instance. Confidentiality is a prima facie right and duty of journalists. This principle, however, can be overthrown by moral considerations. Consequently, social justice is linked to source confidentiality as it broadens the scope of the agreement to a social level, involving and affecting groups of people, even a whole country.

Although confidentiality appears to be one of the key elements in some good reports to “catch the wrongdoer,” it should also be noted that “privacy is not a legal right only but a moral good.” Clifford Christians explained that while the law condemns intrusion on personal matters, it also allows the exposure of all secrets bearing on public concern. Thus, although the privacy of the source is being protected by the principle of confidentiality, it is the government’s duty to investigate matters of national concern.

In matters concerning public service, good journalism in this case, it is essential to be ethically upright from the very beginning of news gathering. Patrick Lee Plaisance said “the journalistic ethos of getting the story... is a noble one, committed to the ideal of public service and grounded in the key moral principles of respecting human dignity, minimizing harm and exercising moral autonomy.”

A more focused discussion on this issue, among others, will enlighten both journalists and sources as regards their rights, privileges and obligations.

Bernadette A. Pamintuan

College of Law

San Sebastian College-Recoletos


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