EDITORIAL: CHILLING EFFECT UNLEASHED




MANILA, FEBRUARY 24, 2014
(DAILY TRIBUNE) Written by Tribune Editorial - The decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Cybercrime Law literally led to netizens or Internet users burning social media sites since yesterday afternoon when the ruling was issued.

Gauging from the reactions, it would be best for the government to explain provisions of the law which were not ordered deleted by the tribunal.

The decision of the SC also lifted the restraint order on the law, thus making it effective since the order was issued.

Majority of the reactions in social Web sites was about the chilling effect that the implementation of the law is fueling in the virtual community, particularly the provision on online libel that exposes any unfavorable remarks to court litigation.

The regular libel law is already restrictive to news outfits since its criminal nature is an effective tool of suppression against legitimate news dissemination.

The power of the Internet was recognized by the creation of the law in that the state now sees social media as shapers of opinion and a wholesale source of information; the same way that regular media outlets work, and that a special regulation is needed against exploitation of the new medium.

The law is indeed needed since the government found that it lacked the law to address problems generated by the widespread use of Internet technology, such as child pornography on the Web and the online bullying and harassment of persons.

Deleted were provisions on warrantless data spying, arbitrary taking down of Web sites or the so-called take down provision, and double jeopardy in that online libel cannot be charged in conjunction with ordinary libel.

Still the upholding of online libel made the law restrictive for the daily users of Internet who use social media as their outlet for protests and anti-government views.

Some degree of free expression is expected to be compromised with the implementation of the Cybercrime Law since netizens would now have to think twice before banging away in anger or frustration on their social media accounts.

That degree of suppression also counts a lot, primarily in the exchange of information that could be classified as libelous but will later turn out to be essential news.

In the world of news, making the threat of being criminally prosecuted for legitimate news, is a perpetual Damocles sword that hangs above the head of journalists.

Even the thought of what was written was perfectly legitimate is not consoling since the criminal nature of libel subjects those charged with the tedious court process, including the threat of jail if the accused cannot produce a costly bail.

News outfits have their legal representatives which is costly to maintain but the average Internet user would not likely have the same privilege.

It is exactly that onerous process worsened by the slow pace of the wheels of justice in the country that are the limiting aspects of being charged with libel and not the likelihood of being proven guilty which is very rare for such cases.

The Cybercrime Law as it stands now remains limiting and creates a chilling effect on Internet use.

The worldwide web was designed for unhampered speech and expression and it is regrettable that the Philippines would be among the first country to become restrictive and consider it a crime to curse the government or Noynoy and other abusive officials on social media.

The law was necessary in terms of the truly criminal use of the Internet such as the commercialization and dissemination of depravity. However, it seems the SC effectively allowed free expression to be infringed upon with the online libel provision.

It may also negate efforts to decriminalize libel since the Cybercrime Law gives those who want the suppression of information another recourse with media outlets maintaining their own Web sites. Published in Editorial


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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