Poe’s bill on expanding Sotto law coverage reaches plenary
A bill that would exempt broadcast and online media from revealing their sources is a step closer to becoming a law after Senator Grace Poe brought the proposal to the Senate plenary on Tuesday for deliberations.
Poe, as chair of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, sponsored Senate Bill No. 1255 that would amend the 70-year-old Republic Act 53 also known as the Sotto Law or Shield Law.
The senator explained that under the 1946 law, RA 53, which was later on amended by RA 1477 in 1956, print media are not compelled to reveal their sources except in cases involving national security, as determined by the courts or any committee of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“Today, we want to expand the coverage of RA 53 to respond to growing technology. We now receive news not just through print media, but also through broadcast media, such as TV, radio, and the internet,” Poe said in her sponsorship speech of the bill.
“Based on a 2012 survey conducted by TNS, 45 percent of 1,000 respondents from classes A,B,C,D, and E claimed that they connect to the internet, while 36 percent listen to the radio, 12 percent read newspapers, and 4 percent read magazines. Given these figures, it appears that the preferred mode of accessing information is no longer through print media, obviously,” she said.
Under the bill, Poe said the coverage of RA 53 would be expanded to include any publisher, owner, or duly recognized or accredited journalist, writer, reporter, contributor, opinion writer, editor, manager, producer, news director, web master, cartoonist or media practitioner involved in the writing, editing, production, and dissemination of news for mass circulation, of any print, broadcast, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including but not limited to the internet, and cable TV and its variants.
She noted that even cartoonists, opinion writers, and web masters were included in the coverage of the proposed measure as they have sources, who should be “afforded protection under the law.”
The bill, however, retained the part of the law where it could not be used to protect a person from libel.
“The law therefore protects media practitioners from being compelled or forced to reveal their sources but not from spewing out malicious imputations under the guise of journalism,” said Poe.
“Are fake news sites covered by the Shield Law? No. To a degree, there will be some sort of accreditation, which shall be effected by the media outlets and practitioners themselves.”
Besides, the senator said, fake news sites “usually aggregate content from legitimate news sites and distort the content to propagate information that would either fit their political agenda or spread misinformation.”
“Thus, they usually have no sources to protect,” said the senator.
Poe was confident that the bill would get the approval of the Senate before yearend.
“As lawmakers, we should capacitate the Fourth Estate—the media—in ferreting out the truth. The media have a very dangerous job, and one way we can help them is to ensure the protection of their sources. The Shield Law actually acts as a second shield, with the first line of defense being the media practitioners themselves,” she said.
“Through this law, we want to embolden whistleblowers to speak out. If they cannot approach government institutions, then they should at least be able to approach the media. It is high time that we amend the law and extend protection to our truth-seekers and tellers,” the senator added./ac/rga
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