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Media watchdog: Online libel 'bigger constraint' to press freedom.

Media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said the online libel provision of the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act has become a bigger constraint to people's right to free speech following the court's affirmation of its legality.

While the CMFR praised the Supreme Court's ruling declaring unconstitutional some of its key provisions including the Justice department's power to take down malicious websites, the provision of online libel added to the already "problematic" scene of freedom of expression in the country, it said in a statement.

CMFR, an independent organization pushing for more press freedom protection, stressed that the original libel law which punishes criminal up to six years jail penalty, has been used several times "to silence" journalists. Online libel carries a penalty of up to 12 years if convicted.

The group said the Philippine government continues to uphold the criminal liability of the libel despite the United Nations' request in 2011 to review the libel law as they found it to be excessive.

"Declaring the provision on libel committed through the Internet constitutional retains one of the most problematic provisions of the Act... The Cybercrime Act throws such a wide net it penalizes even legitimate expressions of opinion online," it said.

"Libel as provided for in the Revised Penal Code thus remains today as problematic as it has been for over 80 years to press freedom and free expression, and in addition has become an even bigger constraint on free expression when committed online," it added.

The organization is among groups who were calling for the decriminalization of the libel law.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has also revived its calls for decriminalizing libel, echoing the CMFR's statement that it is being used by the powerful to suppress the people's freedom of expression.

NUJP Vice Chair Alwyn Alburo said the group will be organizing forum to take appropriate actions against online libel, saying it is not the answer to address cybercrime.

"We'll be reviving too our campaign to decriminalize libel as it has become the pet tool of petty, vindictive legislators who know nothing about the democratic space of the internet. We hope the Supreme Court will not be blind against appeals to its ruling," he told Manila Bulletin.


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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Feb 20, 2014
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