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Party-list solon opposes move to criminalize fake news

A party-list lawmaker on Friday expressed opposition to a Senate bill that would criminalize fake news, saying the right way to fight misinformation is through the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill.

In a statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said he has “serious reservations” on the proposal of Senator Joel Villanueva for having a "very broad scope," and that it “may infringe on the people's constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression.”

“While the proliferation of fake news and online misinformation has to be addressed decisively, we submit that criminalizing it is not the way forward,” Zarate said.

Zarate noted that fake news is not something new, saying former presidents Emilio Aguinaldo and Ferdinand Marcos used it “to justify their actions against the people and in eliminating their critics.”

“As it is, fake news creates false and distorted history that up 'till now has to be corrected,” he said.

Zarate said Congress should instead address fake news by enacting into law the FOI bill.

“What can be done to address fake news is for mainstream and social media practitioners to be objective in reporting events and for Congress to fast track the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill for the Filipino people to know what is truly happening in the country,” he said.

“The best way to counter fake news is for the people to be well-informed of accurate facts,” the lawmaker added.

Earlier this week, Villanueva filed Senate Bill No. 1492 or the proposed Anti-Fake News Act that seeks to penalize persons, public officials, and entities who maliciously offer, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread false news or information in print, broadcast or online media.

False news is defined as information which either intends to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.

“The effect of fake news should not be taken lightly. Fake news creates impression and beliefs based on false premises leading to division, misunderstanding and further exacerbating otherwise strenuous relations,” Villanueva said.

Under the bill, any person who will be proven guilty of malicious creation and distribution of false news will face a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and imprisonment ranging from one to five years.

If the offender is a public official, he or she will be made to pay twice the said amount of fine, and twice the period of imprisonment. The said public official will also face absolute disqualification from holding any public office.

Meanwhile, mass media enterprises or social media platforms that fail, neglect, or refuse to remove false news will be penalized with a fine ranging from P10 million to P20 million and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years. — MDM, GMA News