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Issues raised vs bills seeking to criminalize fake news

Several government agencies expressed reservations about the proposed measures seeking to criminalize the creation and dissemination of fake news. 

During the hearing called by the House Committee on Information and Communications Technology on Wednesday, the Department of Justice-Office of Cybercrime (DOJ-OOC) withheld support for the current version of the proposed bills as it lacks the "parameters to classify a specific news [story] as disinformation or misinformation."

The panel conducted an initial hearing on House Bill Nos. 2971, 5749, and House Resolution No. 270. 

"Firstly, the definition of fake news lacks the proper parameters on which we can refer or cross-reference the news... It would be very dangerous, especially to our law enforcement partners," said DOJ-OOC Director Angela Marie De Gracia. 

De Gracia said the agency supports the committee’s observations on the proliferation of false information and the need to resolve it, but said there are already existing laws that can address the issue, including Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. 

"We would like to manifest that even in the absence of a  special amendatory bill on fake news, we have sufficient laws that can address this specific problem…if we can work out a better definition of fake news, maybe we can work on it. But as it is currently written, we cannot support it for now," she added.

The Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, an attached agency of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, echoed the DOJ-OCC’s sentiments and said it sees some "pitfalls" in the proposed legislation, such as the "lack of guidelines with regard to what exactly is fake news."

"We would like to ask what kind of speech is being targeted?… Another point is who will check the veracity of the subject information. Who’s the competent authority? There are no guidelines with regards to that," the agency said. 

For its part, GMA Network Inc. said such legislation may have a "chilling effect" on news gathering and reporting.

"We welcome the intention of this House in passing a law that would possibly penalize the spread of disinformation, but we’re concerned about the possible chilling effect that it could have on the gathering of news and free discussion of matters that could be of interest to the public," said GMA Assistant Vice President for Litigation Legal Affairs Department Atty. Jose Vener Ibarra.

A similar bill was filed in the Senate. 

Last December, several media organizations, including the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, told senators about the risks posed by a proposed anti-fake news measure on freedom of expression and valid political views.  — VBL, GMA Integrated News