Bill to protect media practitioners Ok’d

A bill seeking to strengthen the law to protect media practitioners from revealing their sources has been approved by the Senate today.

Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media and sponsor of Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1255, said the proposed law was a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 6 and Senate Bill No. 486, filed by Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto and Senator Sonny Trillanes, respectively.

Poe said the bill sought to amend Republic Act No. 53, better known as the Shield Law or the Sotto Law, which was passed 70 years ago upon the proposal of Sotto’s grandfather, the late Senator Vicente Yap Sotto. She said the Shield Law exempted the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation from divulging their sources unless it endangered the security of the State.

The law, Poe explained, ensured press freedom and guaranteed the freedom of speech by allowing the press to report on matters involving public interest without fear of undue pressure from the government to reveal their sources.

But the Shield Law, Poe said, was solely confined to print media. She said the passage of SBN 1255 into law would also protect broadcast and online journalists as well as foreign and local wire news services from revealing their sources.

“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, broadcasts, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including but not limited to the internet and cable TV and its variants,” Poe.

“We now receive news not just through print media but also through broadcast media such as television, radio and the internet,” she added.

Poe cited a 2012 survey conducted by the TNS Global Market Research which showed that 45 percent of the 1,000 respondents from classes A,B,C,D and E connected through the internet while 365 listened to the radio. Another 12 percent of the respondents said they read the newspapers and four percent said they read magazines.

However, she said, the Shield Law could not be used to protect a person from libel. She said the law would protect media practitioners from being compelled or forced to reveal their sources but “not from spewing out malicious imputations under the guise of journalism.”

“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,” Poe said. ####