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Sotto: What’s wrong with having libel law in cyber space?


12:57 AM September 23rd, 2012

By: Norman Bordadora, September 23rd, 2012 12:57 AM

He doesn’t get it.

“I can’t see the logic,” said Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III when asked to react to media protests regarding the dangers and possible unconstitutionality of extending libel laws to new social media in the new Cybercrime Prevention Act.

“If mainstream media are prevented by law from cursing and engaging in character assassination, why should those in the social media and in the Internet be exempted from such accountability,” said Sotto, who had proposed the extension of the Act’s coverage to include libel.

“What’s so special about (mainstream journalists) that they have those prohibitions, and that they (social media bloggers) don’t?” Sotto had insisted in a recent interview.

Always been a crime

Sotto had complained of being the victim of “cyber bullying” after he was pilloried in social media for allegedly “plagiarizing” online blogs in support of his objections to the reproductive health (RH) bill.

“All the crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code are included. Now just because they (bloggers) are now accountable under the law on libel, they are again angry with me?  Libel has always been a crime,” Sotto told reporters before the start of a Senate session last week.

“The regular media can’t curse and can’t engage in character assassination because they have accountability.  Those in the social media don’t have that… Now that they are already covered, pumapalag sila (they are protesting)? I can’t see the logic.”

The Cybercrime Prevention

Act ostensibly aims to go after cyberfraud and cyberpornography.  However, media commentaries point out that when it comes to libel, the complexities of interactive online media would make the application of the law highly controversial.

Police, NBI problem

Asked to comment on the charge that another provision, the taking down of websites, was a form of prior restraint in violation of the Constitution, Sotto said “That’s already the problem in formulating the implementing rules and regulations.  We didn’t place that kind of provision… That’s already the problem of the (police) and the National Bureau of Investigation.  That’s their problem.”

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, who voted against the bill when it was passed in the Senate, agreed that the application of libel laws to the online community was “problematic.” It could lead to violations of the constitutional prohibition on prior restraint to free speech.

“This is because in the case of online communities, people are encouraged to actually participate (make comments, retweet, repost on Facebook),” Guingona said in a statement. With the cybercrime law, editors and owners of these sites will be forced to lock down their websites and prevent people from commenting, Guingona said.

Act of prior restraint

“I believe that editors can regulate the works of their writers but if you gag the general public, surely the constitutional right to freedom of expression is threatened,” Guingona said.

“This act is a prior restraint on freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This law sets us back. We cannot legislate morality. The Spanish inquisition has long been disbanded. I do not know why we are reviving it today,” he added.

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