By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
There is no need for Congress to produce pieces of legislation to fight “fake news,” as there are enough laws in place to penalize perpetrators of misinformation.
At the second hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media on the proliferation on fake news online, the resource speakers from the government, academe, and media industry unanimously agreed that there are enough laws in the government to curb the spread of false information especially in social media.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, for his part, noted that the public may tap existing laws such as the Revised Penal Code which contains provisions on the “unlawful use of means of publications and unlawful utterances” (Article 155) and libel (Art. 355) to redress fake news.
He said there is also the Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, to charge those who supposedly commit libel online.
“There are already legal remedies to address this. We encourage them to take legal actions against the parties who propagate fake news,” Andanar said.
Andanar, who said fake news is a “pressing issue that must be addressed immediately”, said there is a need for an “extensive” education of the public on media and information.
“The best way to fight fake news is to be properly informed,” he said.
Learn to verify information
Professor Clarissa David of the University of the Philippines (UP) echoed Andanar, saying that media literacy is the “long-term solution” to fake news.
“We need to stop focusing too much on penalizing content producers…There’s always someone behind them to take their place, or a fake news website,” she said.
“The long-term solution really is media literacy and news literacy programs—teaching people how to verify truthful information and giving them the tools to do that are important.”
David said that task does not rest solely on the government and educational institutions. She said protecting the public against fake news should be a “collective effort” and include non-government organizations and members of the media as well.
Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of online news website Rappler, likewise said that current laws may just be implemented properly.
“I don’t believe that we should have more legislation and impose these laws. And also demand accountability. I think the biggest problem is the lack of accountability right now,” Ressa, who called fake news a “global phenomenon,” said.
Roby Alampay of BusinessWorld, for his part, said the defining fake news is “dangerous” as it may have an effect on freedom of expression and of the press.
Senator Grace Poe, committee chairman, also raised concern that a new law regulating fake news could lead to censorship and violation of press freedom and right to free speech.
“Congress cannot legislate thought control. I believe that this destructive and divisive phenomenon can only be addressed by a cocktail of solutions,” Poe said.
She, however, maintained that bloggers who spread false information and claim as facts their opinions should also be held accountable.
“If a blogger passes on information that he claims are facts, but which later turn out to be false, we should be able to hold him accountable. And though we support a person’s right to freedom of expression, once that writer defames the subject of his article, that writer must be held liable in accordance with our laws,” she said.
The spread of fake news has reached alarming levels. “When facts don’t matter, the loudest voice gets heard,” Ressa said.
The Rappler CEO also warned: “If you shared something that’s a lie, you become part of that lie.”