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Anti-terror law has chilling effect on all media practice –FMFA

Editors and reporters of news organizations around the country have joined calls for the Supreme Court to strike down provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

In a statement on Sunday, the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All (FMFA) Network, which is composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), MindaNews, Philippine Press Institute, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), questioned Section 9 of the ATA titled "Inciting to Commit Terrorism."

"Section 9 of the ATA proscribes speech, proclamations, writings, emblems, and banners that fall under the new crime of 'inciting to terrorism,' imposing a penalty of 12 years in prison," the FMFA said.

"As the law fails to provide a clear definition of terrorism and is vague about what constitutes acts of terrorism, Section 9 could make media practitioners vulnerable to wrongful charges and arrests, producing a chilling effect on all media practice," it added.

The FMFA said the government's assurance that protection clauses are in place "fly in the face of the experience of news organizations and journalists who have been red-tagged and branded as 'terrorists' by government and security officials."

"With the government’s anti-insurgency campaign causing a rise in killings of activists, we fear for the safety of our colleagues," the FMFA said.

Further, it called on the government to uphold the freedom of the press.

"We demand that the rights and safety of journalists and media houses be respected and protected at all times," the FMFA said.

"The ATA will not succeed in reducing the threat of terrorism with over-reaching prohibitions on expressive as well as political freedoms. It will reduce this country to a field of submissive and unquestioning individuals, to be herded like by sheep by the police and the military. We reject the Anti-Terrorism Act!"

The anti-terror law took effect last July, well ahead of the February 2021 deadline.

The measure has been widely criticized by different sectors for the alleged threats to basic human rights, such as the freedom of speech and expression.

Despite promises by government officials that the law will not be used against activists, critics filed petition after petition, making the anti-terrorism law one of the most challenged laws before the highest Philippine court.

Aside from the teachers, retired SC justices, lawyers, activists, youth leaders, labor groups, artists, journalists, and several other organizations have asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional. — DVM, GMA News