File photo taken during media coverage at Makati City hall., File photo
Online, broadcast journalists now protected vs being compelled to reveal sources
( - September 25, 2019 - 12:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Online and cable television journalists are now covered by a law protecting journalists from being compelled to divulge the source of confidential information used in their reports.

Journalists can still be compelled to do so if a court or congress believesl "such revelation is demanded by the interest of the State."

President Rodrigo Duterte has signed Republic Act 11458, which amended Republic Act 53, known as "An Act to Exempt the Publisher, Editor or Reporter of any Publication from Revealing the Source of Published News or Information Obtained in Confidence."

Duterte signed the law on August 30, but the copy was made public only on Wednesday.

‘The Sotto Law’

RA 53, signed on Oct. 5, 1946, is known as the Sotto Law—for Sen. Vicente Sotto, its main author—and ensures that a journalist can refuse to reveal the source of information that was received in confidence, except when the court or a committee of congress finds that the revelation is demanded by the interest of the state.

RA 53 was later amended through RA 1477, which holds that "without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws, the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper magazine or periodical of general circulation cannot be compelled to reveal the source of any news-report or information appearing in said publication which was related in confidence to such publisher, editor or reporter."

More journalists protected

The new law extends protection to the following members of the media:

  • Owner
  • Contributor
  • Opinion writer
  • Columnist
  • Manager
  • Media practitioner involved in the writing, editing, production, and dissemination of news for mass circulation

While RA 1477 only covered journalists from “any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation,” the new law expanded protection to journalists of different forms of media including print, broadcast, wire service organization or electronic mass media, including cable TV and its variants. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, author of the bill to expand coverage of the law named after his grandfather, noted that "technology has advanced by leaps and bounds and with it, the expansion of the coverage of mass media where news and investigative reports are not only broadcast through the print media, but also through radio, television, cable and the internet."

"The law was conceived at a time when today's technology was unthinkable. Nonetheless, the purpose of the law of protecting and enhancing the freedom of the press, so as to inform the public of current events and issues that affect their lives, remains relevant and important," he also said.

Antonio Trillanes IV, co-author of the bill during the 17th Congress, said in the explanatory note of his version of the bill that "it is imperative that the protection enjoyed by members of the print media be extended also to broadcast media practitioners."

On his Twitter account, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., a former journalist, said:  "And am I still hearing that Duterte is an enemy of freedom of the press? Aver? Am I still hearing that?"

Locsin said the law shows Duterte is "willing to take the risk that the media who are avid fictionists will pretend they had sources for their lying libels."

Libel is still a crime in the Philippines. — Kristine Joy Patag

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