Proposal to eliminate jail time for journalists in libel cases suggested

A senator is pushing for a bill that would replace imprisonment with fines as the penalty for libel cases involving journalists in the Philippines.

Senate Bill No. 2521, submitted by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada on January 22, seeks to address the threat of imprisonment for journalists while they carry out their duties, which the lawmaker views as counterproductive. Instead of imprisonment, Estrada suggested a fine of P5,000 to P15,000 on any reporter, editor, or manager of a newspaper, daily, or magazine who publishes offensive information related to someone’s private life.

The senator also proposed shortening the prescription period of libel from one year to six months. In addition, he recommended a fine of P10,000 to P30,000 to replace the current fines mentioned in the Revised Penal Code, which is punishable by imprisonment from six years to six months or a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000 pesos.

Estrada’s bill also includes community journalists and stipulates that cases should be lodged in the regional trial court of the province or city where the principal office or business premises are situated, in order to avoid unnecessary harassment and inconvenience to journalists and media organizations.

The proposal comes after the Supreme Court issued guidelines for the preference of imposing a fine as a penalty for libel instead of imprisonment. The bill has been reintroduced by Estrada in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Congresses, as he has consistently pushed for the decriminalization of libel.

Both libel and the provision of the Anti-Cybercrime law penalizing libel have been criticized by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, who said that it gives a “chilling effect” to journalists and declared that the Philippines is still a dangerous country for journalists as the killings of media workers persist.

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