MANILA – The Senate passed on second reading Tuesday a measure which affords legitimate print, broadcast and online media protection from having to reveal their sources, paving the way for the journalists’ privilege statute to be put to a vote on third and final reading next week.
Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, sponsored Senate Bill No. 1255 seeking to amend the 70-year-old law, Republic Act 53 also known as the Sotto Law or Shield Law. Poe lauded the chamber’s move, saying it is appropriate to amend the “outdated” law that only protected print journalists but excluded broadcast and online journalists. Under the measure, print, broadcast and online media cannot be compelled to reveal their sources published in their news reports, except in cases involving national security, as determined by the courts or any committee of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“This is an important step toward upholding the freedom of the press sanctioned by the Constitution because we consider a free and responsible press as one of the foundations of our democracy,” said Poe.
The Senate minority group expressed support for the measure, with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon moving to approve the measure on second reading.
Poe’s committee did not introduce amendments to the measure, neither did the senators. “The chamber can now proceed with the third reading possibly by next week before the sine die adjournment of sessions next month,” said Poe.
Poe said even cartoonists, opinion writers, and web masters are included in the coverage of the measure as they have sources, too, who should be “afforded protection under the law.”
Also dubbed the Sotto Law in honor of the original author and sponsor, former journalist and the late Sen. Vicente Y. Sotto, Sen. Sotto’s grandfather, RA 53, however, cannot be used to protect a journalist from libel. Previously, the law was successfully invoked when in 2007 the Senate ethics committee tried to compel a journalist to reveal her sources who exposed details of a closed-door hearing.
Under the bill, Poe said the coverage of RA 53 would be expanded to include 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, broadcast, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including but not limited to the internet, and cable TV and its variants.
The Shield Law, however, does not cover fake news sites which usually just aggregate content from legitimate news sites and distort the content to propagate information that will either fit their political agenda or spread misinformation.
Poe said fake news sites “belittle and mock the effort and time a journalist spends vetting his or her sources.”