Threats to press freedom

THERE are looming threats to press freedom and they are not just coming from assassins murdering crusading journalists or peeved government officials or businessmen filing criminal and civil lawsuits against media entities but from lawmakers crafting laws muzzling the media.

While we are then distracted by the impeachment trial of now dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, the House of Representatives and Senate are surreptitiously working in tandem to penalize reporters who breached information confidentiality.

This law is set to be finalized tomorrow (Monday) by the bicameral conference committee.

Senate Bill 2965 authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara and House Bill 4115 principally authored by Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo seek to severely punish reporters and media entities violating the “Data Privacy Act” with imprisonment and fines.

In particular, SB 2965 imposes the penalty of “imprisonment ranging from two years and four months to five years and a fine not less than  P500,000 but not more than P2 million…in case of a breach of confidentiality where such breach has resulted in the information being published or reported by media.

In this case, the responsible reporter, writer, president, publisher, manager and editor-in-chief shall be liable under this Act.

Another bill seeking to roll back the freedom of the press, never mind if it was constitutionally mandated and gained through the heroic struggle of journalists during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, is House Bill 5833 filed by Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco of Marinduque.

Lord Velasco is seeking increased penalties for libel, slander and intriguing against honor from arresto mayor or fine ranging from P20 to P2,000 or both to arresto mayor or a fine ranging from P1,600 to P160,000. The bill seeks to amend Article 357 of Act 3815 also known as the Revised Penal Code.

These ominous bills coupled with the unabated killings of journalists, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s lukewarm support for full passage of the Freedom of Information Act and the shameful failure of Congress to decriminalize the barbaric libel law are direct attacks against the freedom of the press, the constitution and our democratic tradition.

It is a blatant and shameless attack against the people’s constitutional right to know the truth and an outright disregard for the sacrificed lives to regain this sacred freedom.

Can we trust the Supreme Court now that it has been reformed (or defanged?) with the ouster of Corona to defend the constitutionality of press freedom from the determined onslaughts of these obviously anti-democratic lawmakers or do we again have to resort to the mosquito press to spread the truth?

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