Lawyer to current, future journos: Observe factual reporting, be cautious to avoid cyberlibel

·3 min read

CURRENT and aspiring journalists and online media writers are urged to be cautious and to observe factual writing in social media.

Doing these would spare themselves from getting sued for cyberlibel.

Law professor and former Cebu provincial chief prosecutor Pepita Jane Petralba made the call before mass communication students during a forum on cybercrime and cyberlibel at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center in Cebu City on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Petralba, who is currently teaching law at the University of San Carlos, said that practicing and even aspiring journalists should be armed with the legal knowledge when it comes cyberlibel and other forms of cybercrime as she often noticed that a lot of the cybercrime law violators are often confused or unfamiliar with the offenses that they are charged of.

“It is essential because the topics we are discussing are novel, new. They are untested. Many of the things I have talked about are untested, undecided, and unsettled. So, we need to pique the interest of many people,” Petralba told SunStar Cebu.

Section 4 (c) (4) to Republic Act (RA) 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, describes cyberlibel as “unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

Petralba said that unlike the penalties for libel stated in the Revised Penal Code, cyberlibel’s penalties are a degree higher.

A person convicted of libel could face a jail time of six months to four years. But if a person is convicted of cyberlibel, he could face jail time for a maximum of eight years.

“Once the penalty exceeds six years, then the nature of crime is now increasing to serious or uplifting or grave crime,” said Petralba.

Petralba said the prescription period of a libel case is one year; however, under RA 10175, cyberlibel has a 15-year prescriptive period.

In legal terms, the prescription of the crime means the perpetrator can no longer be sued in court once it lapses to a certain period of time.

Fines for those convicted for cyberlibel are more steep compared to those convicted for libel under the Revised Penal Code.

Petralba said that while a person convicted of libel is required to pay a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000, a person convicted of cyberlibel could face a fine ranging from P40,000 to P1.2 million.

Public officials who are convicted of cyberlibel are required to pay a fine. Aside from that, they are disqualified from holding a public office and they cannot get their retirement benefits.

Petralba further said that cyberlibel is a “transnational crime,” meaning those who violate RA 10175 can be sued anywhere in the country.

“Any cybercrime is considered a transnational crime. It can be committed elsewhere. It can be committed outside of the Philippines, and yet our law will apply. Good if you commit [libel] in another country and there is no criminal law in libel [in there],” said Petralba.

She warned people, particularly news reporters and online media writers, to be cautious of the stories they are posting on social media platforms, saying they must double-check the information to determine if the stories are factual, objective and do not contain malice or ill will.

Steven Cuevas, a 19-year-old sophomore mass communication student of the University of the Philippines, said the forum is helpful for students like him to understand cyberlibel because he is often immersed in social media.

The forum, which was organized by the Cebu Citizens-Press Council, is part of the weeklong activities related to the 30th Cebu Press Freedom Week, which is being celebrated from Sept. 17 to 24. The forum was sponsored by ARN Central Waste Management Inc. and WTG Construction and Development Corp.