Press Release
November 29, 2016

Capacitate the Press, Expand Coverage of the Shield Law
Sponsorship Speech of Senator Grace Poe
on Further Amending Republic Act No. 53

29 November 2016, Senate Session Hall

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, and guests, magandang hapon po.

I stand here today to sponsor Senate Bill No. 1255, otherwise known as "An Act Amending Republic Act No. 53" better known as the Sotto Law or Shield Law. The committee report is a consolidation of two bills, Senate Bill No. 6 and SBN 486, which were filed by Senators Sotto and Trillanes, respectively. During our committee hearing on the proposed measure, all stakeholders from the media, government, and civil society organizations have agreed on one thing: this 70-year old law is ripe for amending.

RA 53 was first passed in 1946 upon the proposal of the late Senator Vicente Yap Sotto when the dissemination of news and investigative reports were almost solely through print media. It exempts the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation from divulging their sources unless it endangers the security of the State. It is in consonance with Section 4 of the Constitution that safeguards the freedom of speech and expression. It enables press freedom and guarantees the freedom of speech by ensuring that the press is allowed to report on matters involving public interest without fear of undue pressure from the government to reveal their sources. It guarantees the safety of news sources, who, if not for this law, would most likely cower at the thought of prosecution for revealing to the media what they know.

Ten years later, RA 53 was amended to recognize the fact that press freedom is not absolute, and falsity can and should be punished under civil and criminal laws. Thus, the addition of the caveat in the law that the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any print media may still be held liable under civil and criminal laws. The Shield Law has also been carried over or reiterated in RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012. Nonetheless, the language of the law is still confined to print media.

Today, we want to expand the coverage of RA 53 to respond to growing technology. We now receive news not just through print media, but also through broadcast media, such as TV, radio, and the internet. Based on a 2012 survey conducted by TNS, 45 percent of 1,000 respondents from classes A,B,C,D, and E claimed that they connect to the internet, while 36 percent listen to the radio, 12 percent read newspapers, and 4 percent read magazines. Given these figures, it appears that the preferred mode of accessing information is no longer through print media, obviously.

Thus, 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, broadcast, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including but not limited to the internet, and cable TV and its variants.

Perhaps, some of you are wondering, why include cartoonists or opinion writers or even web masters? This is because, if a person is involved in the creation, production, or dissemination of news reports, whether through words, actions, or pictures, then their sources should be afforded protection under the law. But what about libelous content? The Shield Law cannot be used to protect a person from libel. We have retained the first part of RA 53, as amended, which states, "Without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws�" The law therefore protects media practitioners from being compelled or forced to reveal their sources but not from spewing out malicious imputations under the guise of journalism. Are fake news sites covered by the Shield Law? No. To a degree, there will be some sort of accreditation, which shall be effected by the media outlets and practitioners themselves. Besides, fake news sites usually aggregate content from legitimate news sites and distort the content to propagate information that will either fit their political agenda or spread misinformation. Thus, they usually have no sources to protect.

The value of RA 53 should not be undermined. In several instances, this law had protected journalists from the legislature that conducted inquiries in aid of legislation in order to coerce resource persons, particularly those from the media, to divulge their sources, even if the information had nothing to do with the security of the State. For example, RA 53 was invoked when in 2007, the Senate Ethics Committee tried to compel a journalist from the Philippine Daily Inquirer to reveal her sources who exposed details of a closed-door hearing. Similarly, in 2015, the Shield Law was again invoked when a reporter of The Standard alleged that based on her sources, the previous administration used money from a crime lord to guarantee the swift approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

As lawmakers, we should capacitate the Fourth Estate--the media--in ferreting out the truth. The media have a very dangerous job, and one way we can help them is to ensure the protection of their sources. The Shield Law actually acts as a second shield, with the first line of defense being the media practitioners themselves. 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. It is about time that we amend this law and extend protection to our truth-seekers and tellers in broadcast and online media.

Maraming salamat po.

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