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Bill vs fake news prone to abuse

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 26, 2017 - 12:00am

For Christians spreading fake news is a sin as it breaks the Eighth Commandment: Thou shall not

bear false witness. Catholic bishops last week reminded the faithful that lying uncharitably

prevents people from making right judgments. Its unclear if they were referring to President

Rody Duterte, who had chided one of them, fervidly denied of course, as having two wives. Fake

news has always plagued history. Rizal falsely was accused of inciting the Katipunan; Bonifacio

was rumored to be napping when it was time to signal the Revolution; Gen. Luna was

misreported as defying Aguinaldo. Gossip dooms men, but its their way.

Reborn-Christian Sen. Joel Villanueva proposes to outlaw news fakery. His bill would imprison

for five years persons who maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread false

info in print, broadcast, or online media. The aim is to zap lies that intend to cause panic,

division, chaos, violence, and hate, or propaganda to blacken or discredit reputations. Violators

also would be fined up to P5 million. Offending public officials face double penalties, plus

perpetual bar from public office. Media managers also would be jailed and fined for refusing to

take down fake news. Of late fake news has been proliferating as political hype and terrorist

propaganda. Hillary Clinton lost the US presidential race due partly to false reports of being

Russias bet, but which turned out to be someone else. The Islamic State has been massacring in

Iraq and Syria, then blaming it all on America and Russia. The Maute is promising in Marawi a

benevolent rule under ISs global caliphate, while beheading Muslims and Christians who shun
its jihad. Villanueva says it is high time for legislation in light of recent events where numerous

fake social media accounts were created to spread false news. His press release cites in

particular Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirres false implication of opposition lawmakers to the

Marawi terror rampage. The senator was among those who demanded, in vain, Aguirres

retraction and public apology.

The bill is prone to abuse. A bigot administration can apply it to suppress the opposition. By

prosecuting critics as news fakers, the government can stifle legitimate dissent. Whistleblowers,

not the grafters, would be imprisoned and fined for daring to talk. Investigative journalists would

cram the jails. Democracy would die. Even Villanueva could end up behind bars if a powerful

falsifier turns the tables on him.

The way to curb news fakers is by public exposure and shaming. The solution is not the court of

law but the court of public opinion, as University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo

Arao says. Besides there already are older laws against libel, slander, perjury as recourse.

Governments must balance security and liberty. In the wake of the terror attacks in Manchester

and London, British PM Teresa May growled at big internet firms: (You) cannot allow this

ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Germany recently imposed stiff fines on online

platforms that host hate postings. Yet there is no reason for the tech firms to promote extremism;

in fact they have been active against child porn, copyright infringement, and cyber-fraud and -

bullying. They need to be, as subscribers and advertisers pull out of such atmosphere.

Mica Ella A. Franco ABM 12