An expanded law that exempts broadcast and online media from revealing their sources--currently being enjoyed by the print media--is closer to becoming a law after Sen. Grace Poe sponsored a measure amending a 70-year-old law and safeguarding the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, of expression and of the press.
Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, submitted Committee Report No.12 on Senate Bill No. 1255 seeking to expand the coverage of Republic Act No.53 better known as the Sotto Law as pushed by former journalist and the late Sen.Vicente Y. Sotto, Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III's grandfather.
Under the 1946 law, later on amended by RA 1477 in 1956, print media are not 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.
"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," the senator stressed.
"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 high time that we amend the law and extend protection to our truth-seekers and tellers," Poe said in sponsoring the measure.
Poe said she expects that the proposed legislation would hurdle Senate scrutiny before yearend.
Apart from reporters, editors and publishers, the amendatory bill would also include web masters, cartoonists and other practitioners involved in the writing, editing, production and dissemination of news.
During the public hearing, stakeholders from the media, government, and civil society organizations were unanimous in saying that the law is more than ripe for amendment to respond to advances in technology.
Fake news sites, however, are not covered under the proposal, Poe said, as these sites 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. Thus, they usually have no sources to protect, she added.
Poe said it is important that legitimate media entities uphold the ethical values of journalism in telling the truth in the face of fake news and trolls.
The committee report is a consolidation of two bills, Senate Bill No. 6 and SBN 486 filed separately by Senators Sotto and Antonio Trillanes IV.