The Inbox

Journalists step up campaign to decriminalize libel

By Eimor Santos and Reynard Magtoto, VERA Files

PPI President Jake MacasaetAs long as libel is a criminal offense, there remains a direct attack  to freedom of expression, media practitioners declared as they marked Press Freedom Day.

"I used to think that criminal libel is a necessary evil. It is the only weapon against frequent abuses of media. Unfortunately, this weapon has been variously abused by people in power," Amado P. Macasaet, Philippine Press Institute (PPI) chairman-president and Malaya publisher, said in a forum at De La Salle University-Manila last week.

Macasaet said he could never forget the 10 libel cases filed by former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo against him and 46 other journalists. "It was the worst example of how powerful people can threaten journalists with prison terms and fines we may not be able to pay in the event of final conviction," he said.

Tina Malone, US embassy information officer, noted that when journalists around the world are threatened and jailed, they are being censored as well.

"The truth is replaced by fear, and all of us suffer," she said.

Paraan, Malone and Roque during the open forum.What is problematic about the Philippine libel law is the premise that truth is not a complete defense. "Even if you are stating the truth, if they can prove that there is malice, you can still spend time in jail, which is ridiculous," lawyer Harry Roque of the Center for International Law and the director of the Institute of International Legal Studies and Law Center of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said.

Roque cited the case of Alexis Adonis, a Davao-based broadcaster who was convicted of libel in 2007. This was for reading over his radio program an article from the tabloid Abante claiming that former Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles (whose name was not mentioned by Adonis) was caught with his pants down while running away from the husband of  a woman he was  alleged to be with in a hotel room.

Adonis spent more than two years in prison.

"He had to spend time with criminals whom he exposed in his radio program," Roque said. "And you could imagine how happy these characters were."

The UNHRC asked the Philippine government to compensate Adonis for the time served in prison, and to take steps to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, like reviewing the law on libel.

Earlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) declared that the  libel law in the Philippines is discordant with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or freedom of expression.

Rowena C. Paraan, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said the public must take practical actions in order to decriminalize libel.

She suggested a 10-step action plan, which includes educating media practitioners on libel and ethics, intensifying national and international campaigns, and using the social media for campaigning, among others.

According to Paraan, it is crucial to inform the public that freedom of expression is not for media practitioners alone, but for everyone.

Bloggers like JR Bustamante and Jane Uymatiao advocated the use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to push for the decriminalization of libel. They said simple hash tags can do a lot to pressure the politicians.

Almost all states in the United States have decriminalized libel. Unlike the Philippines, other countries treat libel only as a civil offense that is punishable by fine.

The Philippine libel law, which is embodied in Article 353-364 of the Revised Penal Code, classifies libel as a "crime against honor." The punishment for libel is a minimum imprisonment of six months and one day and a fine ranging from P200 pesos to P6, 000.

The Philippine government said libel can be decriminalized but it has to be included in the entire Revised Penal Code revision project which, Roque said, will surely "take forever." Thus,  journalists urged Congress to file a one-sentence law repealing the current libel law.

As observed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), threats against journalists are on the rise. As of December 2011, the Community to Protect Journalists reported that 179 journalists have been put behind bars around the world.

The Manila forum was held in partnership with the United States Embassy. Simultaneous forums were held in Cebu, Baguio, Bulacan and Cagayan de Oro to mark World Press Freedom Day.

(Eimor Santos and Reynard Magtoto are journalism students of the University of the Philippines and Bicol University, respectively, who are writing for VERA Files as part of their internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

  • Gaga's un-retouched images cause uproar
    Gaga's un-retouched images cause uproar

    Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott are said to be upset that un-retouched images they took of Lady Gaga for her Versace campaign were leaked. …

  • Centipede Bursts from Snake's Stomach
    Centipede Bursts from Snake's Stomach

    A group of researchers stumbled upon a grisly scene during a field study in Macedonia last year: a dead nose-horned viper with a centipede's head sticking out of its ruptured abdomen. "All of us were astonished, as nobody has ever seen something like this," Ljiljana Tomovi?, a herpetologist at the University of Belgrade, told Live Science in an email. The remnants of the death match were discovered when one researcher, Dragan Arsovski, turned over a stone, Tomovi? The unfortunate nose-horned …

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have …

  • Laptop used for first US presidential email finds a buyer
    Laptop used for first US presidential email finds a buyer

    The laptop computer that Bill Clinton used in 1998 to send the first-ever US presidential email has sold for $60,667 in an online auction, the Boston auction house that handled the transaction said Thursday. RR Auction did not disclose the name of the buyer of the still-functional Toshiba Satellite that Clinton borrowed to email veteran astronaut John Glenn, who was orbiting Earth aboard the space shuttle Discovery. The laptop, with accessories and full documentation, originally belonged to …

  • Stars and sacrifice this season
    Stars and sacrifice this season

    [caption id="attachment_127550" align="aligncenter" width="780"] From left: Julia Barretto, Miguel Tanfelix, Bianca Umali, Robi Domingo, Rovilson Fernandez, and Maria Isabel Lopez[/caption] Holy Week is not just about taking a break from work or school. Here is a list of things celebrities have opted to give up and their prayers during this solemn season: Leisure "Mira Bella" star Julia Barretto is really hoping to hit the beach during Holy Week break but it seems her production won't let …

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    LiveScience.com - 18 hours ago
    5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that the Star of Bethlehem (a celestial event long associated with Jesus' birth) may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Other researchers have …

  • 4 questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

    4 questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

    Associated Press - Sat, Apr 19, 2014
    4 questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

    Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers. …

  • Dear Ms. Kris Aquino

    MB - Sat, Apr 19, 2014

    Sometime in October, 2013, you assumed a new role as member of the board of directors of Central Azucarera de Tarlac. The news spread quickly among the good, decent, and hardworking farm workers and farmers at Hacienda Luisita and their supporters inside and outside of Tarlac. Your new role comes with corporate responsibilities to CAT, social responsibilities to farm workers and farmers of Hacienda Luisita, and civic responsibilities to the country.  The nation and the world now looks at what …

POLL
Loading...
Poll Choice Options