The Revised Penal Code requires libel suits to be filed in the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the libelous article was first published, or where the offended parties lived or worked when the offense was committed. Complainants have filed suit in places far from where community journalists work. SUNSTAR PHOTO

Bills now pending in Congress narrow the venue of the filing of libel cases to the place where the journalist lives or works, or where the main office of his media outfit is located.

House Bill 6916, “An act providing for the venue of the criminal and civil action in libel cases against a community or local journalist, publication or broadcast station,” provides the venue of libel cases against such journalists and media outfits as the “Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the principal office or place of business of the community or local journalist, publication or broadcast station is located.”

The objective of the bill is “to prevent harassment of community or local journalists, publications or broadcast stations.”

Authored by Reps. Raul del Mar, Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Rodrigo Abellanosa, Gus Tambunting, Gabriel Bordado Jr., Roger Mercado, Evelina Escudero, Marvey Marino, France Castro, Antonio Tinio and Isagani Zarate, the bill defines “community or local journalist, publication or broadcast station” as one operating “within a limited area of circulation or broadcast in a city, province or region.”

House Bill 6916 was recommitted by the House committee on rules to the House committee on public information last January.

On the other hand, Senate Bill 197, “The Libel Law Reform Act of 2016,” introduced by Sen. Leila de Lima last June 30, 2016, fixes the venue of libel to the place where the journalist “resides or conducts business” or the main office of the media outfit that caused the original release and publication of the defamatory material.

The Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act 4363 in 1965, currently provides that the venue be the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the libelous article was printed and first published, or where any of the offended parties lived at the time of the commission of the offense, or if one of the offended parties is a public officer, the place where he held office.

This gives offended parties the option to file suit in places far from where the community journalist lives or works, making the latter’s attendance in the legal proceedings difficult and costly.

Cebu journalists, for instance, could be sued for libel in other parts of the country if the complainant lives or holds office there.