House panel wants law protecting journalists expanded

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A committee of the House of Representatives endorsed yesterday a bill expanding the 70-year-old Sotto Law, which protects print journalists from revealing the sources of their information.

The committee on public information recommended the approval of Bill 684, principally authored by Cebu City Rep. Raul del Mar.

The measure seeks to amend Republic Act 53, which was signed into law on Oct. 5, 1946. The late senator Vicente Sotto authored it. Thus, it became known as Sotto Law.

The law protects the “publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any publication, magazine or periodical of general circulation” from revealing the source of his news report or information, “unless the court or a house or committee of Congress finds that such revelation is demanded by the security of the state.”

The Del Mar bill will expand the coverage of the law to include legitimate broadcast and social media journalists and other practitioners, including cartoonists, photographers, commentators, broadcast station owners, managers, editors “or other practitioner involved in the gathering, writing, editing of, or commenting on the news for mass circulation or broadcast.”

The expanded statute would also cover news agencies and internet publications.

Del Mar said the Sotto law covered only certain print media practitioners because broadcast, social media and internet platforms had not yet evolved when the statute was enacted 70 years ago.

“When the law was passed, electronic journalism was virtually non-existent, broadcast stations played music and drama and gave the news but did not hire news reporters, news or wire agencies still had to be developed or recognized and the internet was not even a dream,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Del Mar said the House approved his bill in previous Congresses, but the Senate failed to pass it.

In the last Congress, Del Mar authored the measure with then Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. of Abante Mindanao, who succeeded his brother as representative of their city’s second district.

The Del Mar bill provides for a qualification for those to be covered by the proposed expanded law: they have to be accredited by legitimate print, broadcast, internet or wire service organizations, networks or stations.

The public information committee also endorsed another bill requiring the use of Filipino sign language insets for local news programs.

Reps. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. and Carlos Zarate authored the sign language inset measure.

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