House panel OKs bill expanding journalists’ rights

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

TWO proposed bills, both seeking to expand the coverage on journalists' right to refuse to reveal the source of a news report obtained in confidence, on Monday were endorsed by the House committee on public information.

The House panel chaired by Misamis Occidental Jorge Almonte recently approved the Committee Report 50 on House Bill 362 (in consolidation with HB 1629 and 1963), which were authored principally by Representatives Raul del Mar (1st District, Cebu City), Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City, 2nd district) and Maximo Rodriguez (Abante Mindanao party-list), and Harlin Abayon (Northern Samar, 1st district).

HB 362 is entitled: "An Act amending RA No. 53 (also known as the Sotto Law), as amended, otherwise 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' by including within its coverage journalists from broadcast, news agencies and internet publications."

The "Sotto Law" has been the journalist's privilege statute, which ensures he can refuse to reveal the source of a confidential news report or information except when the court or a Committee of Congress finds that the revelation is demanded by the security of the State.

"The reason for the rule is that the identity of sources of a confidential news information must be protected, otherwise the spring of data for news or commentary dries up and the mission of the press to check and balance and expose wrongdoing is impeded," del Mar said.

Due to the dawn of modern technology, the bill expands the coverage to broadcast journalists, news agencies and internet publications which are otherwise not covered by previously by the Sotto Law.

"Protection extends to the publisher, station manager and/or manager, bureau chief, editor, news editor, writer or reporter, correspondents, opinion columnists or commentators, cartoonists, photographers, or any practitioner involved in the gathering, writing, editing of and commenting on the news," the authors said.

It stated that the current privilege applies only to the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation. The law is silent about journalists from broadcast stations, news or wire agencies, and internet newspapers, magazines and other publications.

"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," the Committee Report said.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that they will study first the version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill by the Senate, which is expected to pass the third and final reading before the Congress takes a break on March 15.

Belmonte said that they need to compare the Senate version with the several different versions filed in the House of Representatives so that it wouldn't create a conflict once it reaches the bicameral session.

"The Senators are planning to approve the FOI before we [take a] break. We would like to get the version of it and study it very carefully," Belmonte said.

The Speaker said that he is sticking with his previous statements that the FOI will be passed before his present term expires.

"Ako I'm still standing by what I've [previously] said that I guarantee it will [be] approved here during my duly term of office this 16th Congress," Belmonte said. (Sunnex)

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