The state recognizes the vital role of communication and information in nation-building (Article II, Section 24, 1987 Constitution). Consistent therewith, it is the state’s duty to provide an environment for the full development of Filipino capability and the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with the policy that respects the freedoms of speech and of the press (Article XVI, Section 10, ID).
While traditional mass media was the means to spread and disseminate information on relevant events happening across the nation and around the globe, this has been replaced by the new media—user-specific web-based technology intended to create virtual connection—through the Internet.
According to the recent Statistics Report, the Philippines has 59.2 million Internet users as of 2016, and is projected to have 80.7 million Internet users by 2021 (https.//www.statistica.com/statistics). Facebook, an online social-media site, reports 47 million active accounts in the Philippines, and is considered the most popular and highly trafficked social networking site (Lee, Raine et al. Coming and Going on Facebook, Pew Research Center [February 5, 2013]).
In this digital age, Facebook and other social-media platforms play a crucial role not only in the dissemination of information but in influencing public opinion and national discourse. The recent increase and proliferation of fake news and false information over the Internet and social-media platforms has compelled the filing of at least two resolutions in the Senate (Resolution 315 of Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes and Resolution 271 of Sen. Francis N. Pangilinan) and the filing of a Senate Bill 1492 by Sen. Joel Villanueva. A counterpart bill, House Bill 6022, was filed by Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr. of the Second District of Camarines Sur.
Senate Bill 1492 seeks to penalize any person who maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate and spread false news or information or cause the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same in print, broadcast or online media. To be covered under this Act, such false news or information must cause or tend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, hate or must exhibit or tend to exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation. In addition, the person doing any of the foregoing acts must have full knowledge that such news or information is false, or have reasonable grounds to believe that the same is false. Any person who will be found guilty of committing any of the foregoing acts will be punished by a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and imprisonment ranging from one year to five years. Stiffer penalties will be imposed if the
offender is a public official.
In addition, this bill proposes to penalize any mass-media enterprise or social-media platform that fails, neglects or refuses to remove false news or information within a reasonable period after having knowledge, or having reasonable grounds to believe, of its falsity. Violators will be punished by a fine ranging from P10 million to P20 million and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years. If the offender is a corporation, the president, CEO and other responsible officers will suffer the penalty of imprisonment.
Ironically, a major broadsheet reported on September 1 that President Duterte already signed the senate bill filed by Villanueva. As it turns out, this was fake news. What the President enacted into law was Republic Act 10591, which adjusted fines for 199 crimes in the Revised Penal Code, including the crime of publishing false news. The “false news” that is deemed a crime under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code refers only to “false news which may endanger the public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the state.” (By lawyer Pachico A. Seros, posted on September 8, Sunstar.com.ph) The Villanueva/Villafuerte bills have wider coverage.
What to me is more important is why, almost overnight, a whole culture of lying has reared its ugly head? Why has fake news, false information, character assassination become the norm not the exception? Are we now a nation that cultivates a culture of lying? As aptly stated by Sen. Grace Poe in her opening statement at the inquiry in aid of legislation by her Committee on Public Information and Mass Media: “If purveyors are allowed to get away with their lies, they embolden government officials to also lie in order to escape accountability, crush dissent and commit illegal acts with impunity.” The Senate inquiry was aimed at identifying the role of government in addressing the lack of news literacy. Should news literacy be recognized by schools to teach children media literacy to help them identify news from hoaxes, similar to the Taiwan experience?
I do not think we need to teach news literacy in schools. “Thou shalt not lie” has been ingrained in us since we were taught our 10 commandments.
Perhaps, it is not the media but our leaders, public officials, policy- makers who need a refresher course on the 10 commandments. As to fake news and false reports by traditional means or online, as the saying goes, “sunlight is the best!”
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