Philippine Senator Moves to Criminalize ‘Fake News’ — Could This Lead to Censorship?
Mong Palatino, 11 Jul 17

Those who spread fake news through the social media are also liable under the proposed bill. Flickr photo by Stanley Cabigas (CC BY 2.0)

Philippine Senator Joel Villanueva filed a bill in late June that would criminalize the “malicious distribution of false news.” Media groups are warning it could lead to censorship.

Villanueva’s Senate Bill No. 1492 or “An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations” defines fake news as “those which either intend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one's reputation.”

The bill assigns penalties to those who publish “fake news” and even to those who share it, potentially criminalizing social media users who may not fully understand the implications of simply sharing an article with friends.

Prison sentencing under the proposed law depends on the status of the entity who publishes or spreads the so-called “fake news”. A private individual found guilty of publishing or spreading fake news can face a prison term of up to five years. A government official's sentence would be double that of a private individual. And a media entity or social media platform spreading fake news could be detained for up to 20 years.

Villanueva explained the rationale behind these penalties:

He added that the passage of the bill “will encourage our citizens, especially public officers, to be more responsible and circumspect in creating, distributing and/or sharing news.”

Journalism Professor Danilo Arao reviewed the four-page bill and summarized his objections:

Arao further disputed the need for a special law mentioning public officials, reasoning that they are already assumed to be following a code of conduct.

In a TV interview, a spokesperson from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the proposed legislation is unnecessary because Philippine libel law already addresses the issues raised by the senator.

A member of the House of Representatives proposed that instead of criminalizing fake news, the congress should work to approve a pending Freedom of Information bill that he says would help counter the irresponsible sharing of false information on media and the Internet.

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