The Senate committee on public information and mass media chaired by Sen. Grace Poe has approved in principle legislative measures seeking to amend Republic Act No. 53, as amended — also called the Shield or Sotto Law that protects print journalists from revealing their sources — to include broadcast and online media practitioners.
The measures — Senate Bill Nos. 6 and 486 filed separately by Senators Vicente Sotto III and Antonio Trillanes IV — breezed through a public hearing presided over by Poe on Wednesday, Nov.9, as she assured a committee report and the consolidated bill will be presented to the floor in two weeks.
Under RA No. 53, also dubbed the Sotto Law as pushed by former journalist and the late Sen. Vicente Y. Sotto, Sen. Sotto’s grandfather, print media are not compelled to reveal their sources published in their news reports, except in cases involving national security, as determined by the courts or any committee of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“The existing law is silent about journalists from broadcast stations and online media since e-journalism was then a pipe dream when RA 53 and its amendatory law, RA 1477 of 1956, were enacted. It is high time that lawmakers update the 70-year-old law amid developments in the practice of the profession and in the spirit of the constitutional provision of upholding the freedom of the press,” said Poe.
Alfonso Pedroche, Philippine Press Institute president and editor-in-chief of Pilipino Star Ngayon, posed no objections to the measures, saying it would be advantageous to the practice of journalism profession in general in view of the advances in technology and in protecting news sources.
Government representatives led by state counsel Charles Cambaliza and Assistant Secretary John Henry Naga of the Department of Information and Communications Technology also backed the measures.
Poe hoped that the amendatory bill will be passed during the Senate’s centenary.
Sotto, for his part, thanked Poe for “prioritizing” his measure in memory of his grandfather who pushed for journalists’ privilege statute and considered the legislation “very important” during the time.
The lady senator said proposing revisions to the old law goes hand-in-hand with the Poe-sponsored proposed Freedom of Information Law being which is already in the advance stage in Senate, as the media play a critical role in dissemination of information.
“Press freedom is regarded as the backbone of democracy. The role that the Fourth Estate plays as watchdog of the government is important in establishing a healthy democracy and accomplishing a system of checks and balances,” Poe said.