House panel approves inclusion of broadcast, online,wire journalists in Sotto Law amendment

MANILA — The House Committee on Public Information approved Tuesday proposals to amend Republic Act 53 or The Sotto Law, as amended, to include journalists from broadcast, news agencies and internet publications exempted from revealing the source of published news or information obtained in confidence.

The committee chaired by Rep. Antonio L. Tinio (Party-list, ACT Teachers) approved House Bill 684 authored by Rep. Raul V. Del Mar (1st District, Cebu City) and HB 1479 authored by Rep. Harlin Neil J. Abayon III (Party-list AANGAT Tayo).

Del Mar said the proposed amendment will not only strengthen confidence in other journalists but also recognize the important role they play in building community and the nation.

Under the Sotto Law, a publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation can refuse to reveal the source of a confidential news report or information, except when the court or a House committee of Congress finds that the revelation is demanded by the security of the state.

“The reason for the rule is that the identity of sources of a confidential news or information must be protected, otherwise, the spring of data for news or commentary dries up and the omission of the press to check and balance and expose wrongdoing is impeded,” said del Mar.

Oddly, del Mar said, the law is silent about journalists from broadcast stations, news or wire agencies, and internet newspapers, magazines and other publications.

“It is an omission that must be filled, an anomaly that must be corrected. The journalists envisioned by the Sotto Law cannot be confined to print practitioners,” said del Mar.

Del Mar explained that when RA 53 was enacted, electronic journalism was virtually non-existent. He said broadcast stations played music or drama and gave the news but did not hire news reporters.

Meanwhile, the news or wire agencies and internet publications still had to be developed and recognized, and the internet was not even a dream.

The bill was approved on third and final reading during the 14th and 15th Congresses, but was not approved by the Senate for lack of time upon congressional adjournment, according to del Mar.

Abayon said broadcast media practitioners should likewise enjoy the protection given to members of print media since they equally play an important part in the dissemination of news and information to the public.

During the 15th Congress, Abayon said Senator Manny Villar filed the proposal.

Meanwhile, Rep. Rodante D. Marcoleta (Party-list, Sagip), the lone dissenter, asked if the bills have safeguards.

“Who is going to tell us that everything that is written or published is correct? I think there are a lot of provisions in the Constitution that (cite) we need also to protect human dignity,” said Marcoleta.

Tinio said Marcoleta’s concerns are well noted and that he can raise these during the plenary discussions on the proposal.

Del Mar assured Marcoleta that his concerns are already safeguarded under Section 2 of HB 684 which inserts a new Section 2 after Section 1 of RA 53, as amended to read as follows: “For purposes of this Act, a duly accredited journalist or practitioner of any legitimate print, broadcast, internet, or wire service organization, station or network, is one who is accredited with any reputable association of media persons such as but not limited to, the Philippine Information Agency-Presidential Communications Operations Office (PIA-PCOO), the National Press Club (NPC), the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP), and the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and/or one who is a regular employee of a legitimate print, broadcast, internet, or wire service organization, station or network. Provided, that any journalist engaged by any legitimate media company shall be deemed to be an accredited journalist.”

Meanwhile, Section 1 of HB 684 and HB 1479 provides for the amendment of Section 1 of RA 53 , as amended, to read as follows: “Section 1. Without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws, a duly accredited journalist of any legitimate print, broadcast, internet, or wire service organization, station or network, including the publisher, station owner and/or manager, bureau chief, editor, news editor, writer or reporter, correspondent, opinion columnist or commentator, cartoonist, photographer, or other practitioner involved in the gathering, writing, editing of, or commenting on the news for mass circulation or broadcast cannot be compelled to reveal the source of any news item, news report or information appearing or being reported, disseminated or commented on in said media, which was relayed in confidence to such journalist or practitioner unless the court or the House of Representatives or the Senate or any of its committees finds that such revelation is demanded by the security of the State.”