Media's Public

‘Fake news bill’: section on black propaganda out of place

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita

The second kind of fake news, when it is used as propaganda, may be wielded not only against a rival politician but the journalist who reports it.

IGNORED or put aside in the committee hearings on Senate Bill #1492 is the second kind of false information or fake news (hereinafter just called “fake news”). Or maybe, the news reports omitted the discussion on that part of the bill and focused on private bloggers hired by PCOO and were peddling fake news.

The main core of the prohibited acts under the bill that seeks to criminalize fake news is “maliciously” publishing or circulating the said news. The fake news must:

[1] “cause or tend to cause panic, division, chaos or violence”; or
[2] “exhibit or tend to exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.”

Concern, defense

Our concern about result #1 is that it lists the effects of fake news without defining explicitly what fake news is.

How does fake news differ from news that carries mistakes in reporting or editing? Errors are regular staple even
in traditional media despite the curators and editors who watch its gates. What consoles is that the news outlet generally strives to correct the mistake promptly..

A lawmaker I talked with said absence of malice or knowledge that it was fake or having no “reasonable ground to believe it was fake” would be a stout defense.

But on whom does the burden of proof fall? The law must be clear about that since in libel malice is presumed unless it is covered privilege communication. And providing a legal source or excuse to oppress or harass the press might make the proposed law a convenient weapon in reprisals against journalists. An addition to the arsenal of libel, contempt and inciting to sedition and similar existing penal curbs against the press.

More ominous

Result #2 sounds more ominous. Reporters and editors might be held responsible for the propaganda that each political camp would hurl against its rival. Journalists would need to verify the genuineness of data a politician would release against his opponent. Resources of local media might not be be enough to cope with that demand.

Besides, that portion of the fake news law is perhaps better relocated, and used as amendment, to the libel law. Make the penalty stiffer if the “black propaganda” comes in the form of fake news.

The main thrust of Sen. Joel Villanueva’s bill, as shown in its explanatory note. is more about keeping public order and less about protecting the reputation of public officials.

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Related Media’s Public articles:

■ Mocha Uson’s fake news is also fake news (Sept. 30, 2017)
■ No fake news law yet (Sept. 8, 2017)
■ Where the fake news law could fail (July 8, 2017)
■ Shoot down a lie on sight (Aug. 26, 2017)

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