A regional rights group has pointed out provisions of Senate Bill 1492, or the proposed Anti-Fake News bill, that it said would threaten the right to freedom of expression.
In a position paper sent to Senator Grace Poe, chairsperson of the Senate Committee on Public Information, the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition-Southeast Asia (AFEC-SEA) and lawyers' group Centerlaw warned that the fake news bill would criminalize speech if passed.
"Criminalization of speech is incompatible with the right to Freedom of Expression," AFEC-SEA chairperson Gilbert Andres at the Regional Fake News Conference in Manila on Friday.
"Essentially it's criminalizing speech...In the Philippine Constitution, it doesn't really differentiate whether it is really false information, whether it's propaganda. Free speech, freedom of expression is protected," he added.
Andres pointed out that that the term "fake news" was never actually defined in the document, making it "overbroad."
Andres said this was potentially unconstitutional for being inconsistent with Section 4, Article III of the 1987 Constitution, which reads, "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."
Prosecution of media organizations
Another potentially dangerous effect of the bill was the potential prosecution of legitimate media organizations, Andres said.
"Most probably those who will be prosecuted will be media organizations carrying critical coverage of public interest issues," he said.
He cited media organizations that are critical of the spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and the administration's war against drugs.
"You will just have prosecution of authentic news," he said.
Andres said that false news had been an issue in the Philippines as far back as the 1930s, as evidenced by the Revised Penal Code.
Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code penalizes "false news," although the term was never defined.
Andres said that this provision should also be repealed.
"My personal position, Article 154 on false news should even be repealed...I'm not just against criminalization of fake news, I'm also against the false news provision," Andres said.
He said that spreading fake news was simply called "propaganda" in the past, and that the digital age simply maximized the effect.
Andres, as well as other panelists from Southeast Asian countries, agreed that there are enough existing laws that can deal with the issue of fake news in the region.
"The antidote to fake news is not less news, it's not less speech, it's more speech, it's truthfulness," he said. —NB, GMA News