‘Fake news’ provision threatens freedom of the press, expression

JOINT STATEMENT

We, media organizations, advocates of freedom of the press and of expression, journalists and academics, raise the alarm over the insertion of measures to control free expression in the “Bayanihan to Heal As One” Act.

We refer to Section 6(6), which penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid of beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make us or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts:”

This provision is tellingly embedded in Section 6, Penalties, which seeks to punish a menu of offenses “with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both, such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.”

But the fact is that Section 6(6) seeks to punish people for an offense that, legally, does not even exist.

In effect, the law will leave it up to the government to be the arbiter of what is true or false, a prospect that cannot invite confidence given the fact that many administration officials, including the chief executive, have been sources of disinformation and misinformation.

Even before the measure was signed into law, news reports flagged the Philippine National Police’s formation of a task force that would go against supposed purveyors of “fake news. ” In Cebu, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia publicly humiliated rapper Brandon Perang for making fun of government efforts against the pandemic on social media. She forced Perang to “swear” an oath to “obey the law” in front of her and other officials. She also announced the creation of a “special unit” to go after other critics.

While we acknowledge the need to fight disinformation in this time of crisis, we fear the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will only end up criminalizing free speech. We assert that the best way to fight disinformation is through education and the truth.

In times of crisis, when the swift delivery of accurate information to our people is vital, we need more, not less, independent reporting.

Alas, Section 6(6) and the accreditation requirement imposed on media will result in the opposite, to the detriment of our people.

To the community of independent journalists, let us tighten our ranks and stand firm in opposing any restrictions on the free performance of our duties.

To all freedom-loving Filipinos, stand with us in defending freedom of the press and of expression and your, the people’s, right to know.

Signed by the following media organizations and individuals:

Altermidya – People’s Alternative Media Network

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Center for Community Journalism and Development

College Editors Guild of the Philippines

Concerned Artists of the Philippines

Davao Today

The International Association of Women in Radio & Television

Kilab Multimedia

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Rappler

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Vera Files

Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines

UP College of Mass Communication

Interaksyon Editors

Rosette Adel

Camille Diola

Jeline Malasig

Philstar.com Editors

Jaira Krishelle Balboa

Deni Bernardo

Kristine Bersamina

Gaea Cabico

Ian Cigaral

Jonathan de Santos

Franco Luna

Prinza Magtulis

Dino Maragay

Kristine Joy Patag

Kristofer Purnell

James Relativo

Ratziel San Juan

Matikas Santos

E.C. Toledo

Alan Alegre, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation

Cong B. Corrales, Associate Editor, Gold Star Daily

Danny Arao, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman

Noemi L. Dado, blogger

Jimmy Domingo, photojournalist

Inday Espina-Varona

Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives

Bart Guingona, MediaNation

Ma. Diosa Labiste, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman

Dominic Ligot, Democracy.Net.PH

Ed Lingao

Luz Rimban, Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism

Manny Mogato

Carlos Nazareno, Democracy.Net.PH

John Nery, Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Marian Pastor Roces, MediaNation

Bernice Soriano, Foundation for Media Alternatives

Lucia Tangi, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman

Jane Uymatiao, blogger

Tyrone Velez, columnist, SunStar Davao

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