By Corina Oliquino| FilAm Star Correspondent
MANILA — The Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media approved a measure to strengthen the law to protect media practitioners from revealing their sources last May 15.
With a vote of 18-0, according to Sen. Grace Poe, sponsor of the proposed measure, the newly-approved bill was a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 6 and Senate Bill No. 486 as filed by Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, respectively.
In a press statement released by the Senate of the Philippines, Poe said that the bill sought to amend the 70-year-old Republic Act No. 53 also known as the Shield Law or the Sotto Law, upon the proposal of Sotto’s grandfather, the late Sen. Vicente Yap Sotto.
“The Shield Law exempted the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation from divulging their sources unless it endangered the security of the State,” Poe said.
Poe added that it “ensured press freedom and guaranteed the freedom of speech by allowing the press to report on matters involving public interest without fear of undue pressure from the government to reveal their sources.”
She also noted that the newly-approved Senate Bill No. 1255 extended the protection to broadcast and online journalists as well as foreign and local wire news services from revealing their sources.
“Under our proposed measure, we shall expand the coverage of RA 53, as amended, to any publisher, owner or duly recognized or accredited journalist, writer, reporter, contributor, opinion writer, editor, manager, producer, news director, web master, cartoonist or media practitioner involved in the writing, editing, production and dissemination of news for mass circulation, of any print, broadcasts, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including but not limited to the internet and cable TV and its variants,” Poe said through a Senate statement.
“We now receive news not just through print media but also through broadcast media such as television, radio and the internet,” Poe said.
Poe cited a survey by the TNS Global Market Research which showed that 45 percent of the 1,000 respondents from Classes A, B, C, D and E were connected through the internet, 36 percent of the respondents listened to the radio, 12 percent read the newspapers and the remaining 4 percent read magazines.
She reiterated that the Shield Law could not be used to protect a person from libel but it could only protect media practitioners from being “compelled or forced to reveal their sources” and “not from spewing out malicious imputations under the guise of journalism.”
“Through this law, we want to embolden whistleblowers to speak out. If they cannot approach government institutions, then they should at least be able to approach the media,” Poe said.
Protect online and broadcast journalists
Poe said that with the advent of technology and the internet, there is a need to protect broadcast and online journalists aside from print media practitioners.
“The existing law is silent about journalists from broadcast stations and online media since e-journalism was then a pipe dream when RA 53 and its amendatory law, RA 1477 of 1956, were enacted. It is high time that lawmakers update the 70-year-old law amid developments in the practice of the profession and in the spirit of the constitutional provision of upholding the freedom of the press,” Poe told Rappler.
The National Press Club, the Philippine Press Institute, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the Office of the Solicitor General posted no objection to the proposed bills.
“I can pose no objection, only concurrence. It is imperative mapangalagaan yung ating source sa media (to protect our media sources),” PPI president Alfonso Pedroche told Rappler.
“The DICT, for its part, only requested that web masters and content contributors be included as beneficiaries of the bill,” he added.
Legitimate journalists and online sources
Both DICT Assistant Sec. John Henry Naga and Sen. Tito Sotto proposed that “only legitimate on-line news sources” are to be protected and explained that legitimate organizations are those “registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the NPC.”
According to Rappler, the proposal will not cover bloggers and other social media users. The clarification came up when Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked about the solution to the growing problem of fake news and fake sites on social media.
“As what Sen. Sotto said, the online electronic mass media must be registered in some form of government registration, for example SEC regulation, to be covered by the law. Otherwise, they will be denied,” DICT’s Naga told Rappler.
For Poe, however, the amendment to the 70-year-old Shield Law is directly connected to the Freedom of Information Bill in which the media “play a critical role in dissemination of information.”
“Press freedom is regarded as the backbone of democracy. The role that the Fourth Estate plays as watchdog of the government is important in establishing a healthy democracy and accomplishing a system of checks and balances,” Poe said.