‘Fake news bill imperils freedom of expression’

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A proposed bill slapping as much as P5-million fine and five-year prison time for peddlers of fake news will endanger citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, lawmakers warned on Friday.

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Congressmen Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers sounded the alarm over the proposal made by Sen. Joel Villanueva.

Villanueva’s Anti-Fake News bill penalizes “a person who maliciously offers, publishes, distributes, circulates and spreads false news or information or causes the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same in print, broadcast or online media and the person having full knowledge that information is false or has reasonable grounds to believe that the same is false.”

Villanueva’s proposal says such false news or information must cause or tend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence and hate or must exhibit or tend to exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.

“That bill is patterned after the German law but the German law was legislated to fight hate messages and has strong constitutional grounds because of its anti-Nazi, anti-hate provisions. In our case, I would suggest we should instead work on ways on how to fight fake news without having the state use its powers to restrict freedom of expression,” Baguilat, a former journalist, said in a text message.

The Ifugao lawmaker was referring to Germany’s war history wherein the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler ordered all Jews in Europe killed for supposedly being an inferior race.

“While the proliferation of fake news and online misinformation has to be addressed decisively, we submit that criminalizing it is not the way forward. The bill’s very broad scope may infringe on the people’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression,” Zarate, also a former journalist before becoming a public official like Baguilat, said.

Baguilat and Tinio said self-regulation remains the best way to fight fake news since media organizations are already liable for peddling false information under the libel law and that government officials are already covered by the law on Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.

Zarate and Tinio said fake news is just modern-day propaganda, a strategy that has been used by the country’s colonizers and then-President Ferdinand Marcos to stifle dissent among the Filipinos who were fighting for freedom and democracy, respectively.

Instead of penalizing fake news peddlers, Zarate called for speedy passage of the Freedom of Information bill so the public will have available facts, rather than fake news, to consume.

“The best way to counter fake news is for the people to be well informed of facts,” he said.

LLANESCA T. PANTI

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