IN House Bill #6022 filed by Rep. Luis Raymond Villafuerte Jr., definitions of “fake news” and “false/inaccurate reports” include mistakes in reporting and editing.

And for mass media outlets, penalty is a gigantic fine (P1 million to P5 million) and, obviously unconstitutional, suspension of operations from one week to one month.

And worse, for the news organization, traditional or online, it doesn’t matter “whether or not such mass media outlet knows of the falsity (of the news) and regardless of intent.”

Apparently, the House committee on public information to which the bill is assumed to have gone needs to be enlightened on how news media works.

Publishing hazards

Errors and lapses are inevitable hazards in publishing, despite the layers that filter news and information in regular media. Reporters make mistakes; editors at times fail to spot them. Speed of publishing process or journalists’ incompetence or negligence or, in some cases, ill will is the culprit.

Except news sites online that are set up like newspapers or broadcast stations, most of internet media don’t have mechanism against errors and lapses. Some bloggers cite their not being journalists as reason not to obey standards or hold themselves accountable. Like mainstream journalists however, they answer to complaints for libel and, if the pending bills become law, for false content.

Absence of malice

For now, it’s arbitrary and unjust to lump regular media with those in online media who don’t belong to a legitimate website, with identity often concealed or disguised and without rules of self-regulation.

Villafuerte’s HB #6022 would consider editorial mistakes — including “misquotations” in the papers and “distortion” in context by broadcast media — as fake news and would penalize any of them regardless of good faith. An error in judgment by reporter or editor may violate journalistic norm but it’s not criminal if malice is absent.

Villanueva version

In contrast, Senate Bill #1492 filed by Sen. Joel Villanueva punishes “fake news” only if it is “maliciously” committed and the violator must “knowingly” commit it “with knowledge that it is false or with reasonable ground to believe that it is false.”

The Senate bill hews to the precept followed by libel law that requires ill intent to be punishable and good faith is a defense. Yes, the same Revised Penal Code provision that makes prosecution tougher when the aggrieved person is a public person or figure.

How it afflicts

Apparently, Villafuerte’s House bill rests on a confused sense of “fake news” and lack in knowledge of how publishing is done.

Consider what the bill would inflict:

◘ It oppresses the media outlet without putting a face on it — editor- in-chief or publisher — and simply removes the requirement of malice by anyone.
◘ It punishes separately the “creating” and the “disseminating” of news or information. “Created” material doesn’t inflict injury on anyone unless it is “disseminated” (in contrast Villanueva’s Senate bill punishes only the publishing or circulation).
◘ It considers content as “false or inaccurate” when it “benefits or undermines” a person, agency or entity. Good heavens, many news stories either boost or hurt someone’s reputation.

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