Libel a crime, senatorial bet insists

February 23, 2019

BROADCAST journalist and senatorial candidate Jiggy Manicad reiterated his stand that libel should stay a crime to deter abuses from within the ranks of media people, especially since new media has enabled the proliferation of fake news and libelous online propaganda.

Manicad, who rose to fame due to his various television programs, said that new media operators -- such as news pages on social media or digital news sites -- should be responsible enough to know the line between defaming an individual or plainly reporting the truth about what happened.

“There is nothing to fear about libel. Be objective and just report the truth,” said Manicad, who worked as a broadcast journalist for more than three decades.

Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code defines libel as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

Slander is spoken defamation and libel is written defamation.

Manicad, who has been exposed to various “beats" in the media industry, stressed the need for responsible journalism from all news outlets amid calls from various media organizations to decriminalize libel and strike out provisions on the right to reply by the aggrieved party.

While he commiserates with his former colleagues who have been slapped with libel, Manicad maintained that responsible journalism, both offline and online, is the key to keep away from libel.

"As a journalist, it's my job to uphold freedom of speech and expression, but when it comes to cases of cyber libel and fake news -- especially when these come from seemingly credible sources -- we have to draw a line. Nakakasira po ang fake news hindi lamang sa hangad nitong siraan pero pati na rin sa opinyon at paniniwala ng publiko," Manicad said.

Furthermore, Manicad added that the "ease with which news can be created and made to look credible online" is an added concern.

"With the right tools, anyone can create a copycat of the major news websites. Anyone can start a Facebook page, pay for ads, and create legitimate-looking false content to mislead people. This is why we need to maintain libel as a criminal offense. It's simply not acceptable," Manicad stated.

He also agreed to the position taken by some lawmakers and government officials that an aggrieved individual should have the right of reply to charges or allegations that have ruined their reputations.

Manicad pointed out that the Constitution guarantees a person's right to respond to false accusations.

According to a report from the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a majority of Filipinos, or 67 percent, believe that fake news and misinformation is a serious problem online.