MANILA TIMES EDITORIAL: LIBEL AND THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH


MANILA, OCTOBER 8,
2012 (MANILA TIMES) One of the sectors that has been most vocal against the Anti-Cybercrime Law is the country’s blogging community.

There are tens of thousands of active bloggers in the Philippines, and their numbers are still rising. Some put up blogs to share what they know about their favorite pastimes. There are food blogs for men and women who love to cook and eat. There are travel blogs for those who like to explore. There are blogs dedicated to pets, motoring, college sports, entertainment . . . just about anything that is a shared interest of a large enough community.

There is, however, a dark side to blogging as well.

The blogosphere is populated by a small but aggressive number of bloggers who think nothing of blindly attacking people they don’t like. Hiding under the cover of pseudonyms, they use the foulest language and spread outright lies because they know that their identities are not known to their victims.

They are cowards, but more importantly they are guilty of libel.

They use the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech as an excuse for their wanton disregard of the rights of others.

Those who have been victimized should not be deprived of a means of redress.

Just as there are libel laws that protect any person from baseless attacks in print media, so too should there be libel laws to stop anyone from destroying the reputation of innocent persons online. Here is where the Anti-Cybercrime Law comes in.

While the punishment may seem too harsh—a maximum of 12 years in prison for anyone convicted of online libel—there is also an unappreciated positive side to it. Bloggers will have to think twice before maliciously spreading lies whose sole purpose is to harm another’s reputation.

Sad as it is, we Filipinos are suckers for rumor. Even tales that are obviously untrue can spread like wildfire, and the Internet has become the preferred means of spreading baseless rumors.

Until libel is decriminalized, everyone must be made aware that the intentional dissemination of lies via print or electronic media has serious consequences.

While there are many who believe that the country’s libel laws are too harsh, those laws must remain in effect until they are repealed. Those who say that libel is a civil and not a criminal offense should continue to lobby with the country’s lawmakers to correct what they see are deficiencies. Until then, the law must be respected, and enforced.

Presumption of malice With libel, there is always a presumption of malice, which is why there have been so few cases of people actually being sentenced for committing the crime.

Also, the damage to a person’s reputation must be real and not merely imagined. There are countless libel cases filed by onion-skinned public officials, which have been dismissed for lack of probable cause. The only problem is that accused parties have to shoulder legal expenses even if they are not guilty of anything. Those who are so inclined can file counter suits for damages, but this again will entail legal expenses that not too many victims are willing or able to shoulder.

It would seem that some bloggers who have been most vocal against the Anti-Cybercrime Law have not actually read the full details of the law, or do not fully understand the nature of libel.

Every freedom has a corresponding responsibility, including and especially the freedom of speech. It is not absolute. If it were, there would be no need for libel or slander laws.

Take a good hard look at the law that has now become mired in controversy. It has received the support of the country’s law enforcers, the business community, non-government organizations and even the church. This is because there is a need for a law to prevent the use of the Internet to commit a variety of crimes.

Like it or not, blogs and websites can be used to commit crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking, drug dealing, and prostitution, among so many others. It is not a form of censorship, as some claim, to enact a law to prevent cybercrime. It is a matter of common sense and a necessary tool for the country’s law enforcers and the judiciary.

Left unchecked, libel could have become commonplace among the country’s bloggers.

It is because of the country’s libel laws that some newsmen and columnists have had to rein in their objectionable opinions, the spread of which serve no useful purpose anyway.

Those who oppose the portion of the Anti-Cybercrime Law that deal with the sensitive issue of libel should look at the other side of the coin. No one has the absolute right to ruin the reputation of another person. Not in a civilized society.

Another way of putting it would be, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

Like it or not, libel is a crime.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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