Duterte, Senate not keen on fake news law

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV may have said the era of fake news was over as he filed a cyberlibel case against controversial Assistant Secretary for Social Media Mocha Uson, but legislating fake news would not be as easy.

The Senate is not inclined to pass a law against fake news because senators recognize that such a law may impinge on the people’s freedom of speech and expression.

Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday said that she agreed with President Duterte’s position that such a law was tantamount to censorship.

Poe chairs the Senate committee on public information and mass media and is on top of the inquiry into fake news on social media.

Mr. Duterte warned against prior restraint amid all the talk of fake news, saying it would be better if the penalties for slander and libel were just increased.

In remarks made during his meeting with the parents of slain University of Santo Tomas student Horacio Castillo III, Mr. Duterte said he did not think a law that would prescribe a set of rules on what could be written would pass.

There is a law saying one cannot review a write-up before it is published because that will be prior censorship, he noted.

“If you want, pass a law increasing the penalty, anyway you have slander, you have libel, civil case. There are a lot of remedies. But to prescribe a set of rules of what is proper or not … that would not pass,” he said.

He himself would not agree to one, he added. The Philippines, he said, was “licentious.”

“Actually, if it is intended to deceive, there’s nothing you can do. You have an equal right to answer, to deceive the deceiver, if you want. That is how it works in this democracy,” he said.

Suppression

Poe said in a text message that while she was concerned about the pernicious effects of the proliferation of fake news, she was “in no way in favor of any measure that aims to suppress our freedom of speech or expression.”

She said she was more inclined to come up with a law increasing the penalties for cyberlibel “caused by fake news and make public officials and employees, whether elected or appointed, hired as a consultant or adviser, paid or not, criminally liable for posting fake news online where malice is presumed.”

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III told reporters that it was difficult to have a law against fake news because in the first place, it was hard to define fake news.

Sotto also said it was hard to hold anyone accountable, as anybody with a computer could be a blogger.

Sen. Bam Aquino said it was still premature to talk about a possible veto by the President when senators were still discussing fake news at the committee level.

Limits to freedom

“But I am in a mindset that like in other countries where those writing or broadcasting fake news are penalized, I think it’s about time our country [got] the same rules,” Aquino told reporters.

Freedom of expression and speech has its limits and parameters, he said.

He said public officials who dished out fake news should be doubly penalized.

Aquino said the Senate majority and minority wanted to pass a law that would have a clear policy “on the rules of engagement online.”

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