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Rights group rejects criminalizing fake news

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By Chito Chavez

Human rights group Karapatan has strongly rejected a measure which seeks to criminalize the publication and proliferation of false content or “fake news” on the Internet, deeming the bill “dangerous” and “hypocritical.”

Karapatan (MANILA BULLETIN)

Karapatan (MANILA BULLETIN)

By allowing the government to define “fake news,” Karapatan maintained the proposed law would only give the Duterte administration more power to clamp down on the media and critical online content.

“An anti-fake news bill will be a bogus bill against disinformation, especially when the main purveyors of false information are in power. This bill only sets a dangerous pretext in the country’s current political situation, particularly its worsening press freedom and human rights crisis. It will suppress online content that is critical to the government, while allowing the spurious and the fictitious information and narratives driven by powers-that-be. This government is already engaged in deliberate, widespread and organized deception in online platforms and on the ground, and a so-called disinformation bill will worsen this,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

She claimed that 200 accounts involved in the 2016 presidential campaign were taken down by Facebook in March 2019 for using fake accounts and spreading false information.

Senate Bill No. 9, or the Anti-False Content Act, was filed by Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III at the first regular session of the 18th Congress last July 1 as one of his priority bills, supposedly “to protect the public from the deleterious effects of false and deceiving content online.”

A similar measure was filed by Senator Joel Villanueva in the 17th Congress, dubbed the Anti-Fake News Act of 2017.

Sotto’s bill imposes stiff penalties such as fines ranging from P200,000 to P2 million as well as prison sentences ranging from six years to 20 years.

Palabay said laws and penalties cannot effectively combat disinformation and the proliferation of false content online when the government is its “number one source.”

“Current criminal laws are already excessive and repressive enough in regulating online speech and the media such as libel, cyber-libel, and slander being filed against journalists and reporters for critical reportage – with the current regime even leading the vicious attacks on press freedom. It is therefore hypocritical for the administration to penalize the creation and proliferation of “fake news” when it is the number one source of malicious disinformation, lies, and malicious propaganda: it supports, funds, and appoints to government posts personalities known to be engaged in spreading fraudulent information online that favors the fascist regime while whitewashing its violence and brutality,” Palabay argued.

Karapatan called on human rights advocates, journalists, media organizations, media advocacy groups, and the Filipino public to reject the bill as it “threatens to impose an even more dangerous form of censorship of press freedom and free expression, counterproductive enough to severely impair the media and the public’s capacity to discern through and detect the regime’s widespread deception.”

“Fact-checking and verification of claims are already established practices in the media, especially in alternative media organizations and even in people’s organizations and human rights groups…”

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