IN the age of fake news and disinformation that is prevalent online, the judiciary has reiterated its call on journalists to be earnestly mindful in fulfilling their mandate to observe accuracy, veracity and responsible verification of any information before releasing it to the public.
This was the gist of the 41-page ruling of the Court of Appeals that affirmed the conviction of Nobel Prize laureate Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of the online media outfit Rappler, and the organization’s former researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. for violating Section 4(c)4 of Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.”
The court’s second division sentenced the two to a maximum of six years imprisonment. The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Roberto Quiroz.
Associate Justices Ramon Bato Jr. and Germano Francisco Legaspi concurred with the ruling.
Ressa and Santos were convicted of cyber libel in 2020 stemming from the complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng for publishing libelous articles. Records of the case revealed that in the article published by Rappler, Santos painted Keng as someone involved in several illegal activities, including human trafficking, murder, smuggling of illegal drugs and bootleg cigarettes, and unlawfully granting of residence visas to Chinese, thereby besmirching his reputation and casting him dishonor, discredit and public ridicule.
The CA said Rappler and Ressa cannot tarnish the name of any person by propagating fake news.
“Journalists are supposed to be reporters of facts, not fiction, and must be able to back up their stories with solid research,” it said.
Ressa remains free on bail.
The appellate court noted that while it was admitted that the article published by Rappler was based on an intelligence report and a similarly published article, there was no showing that it verified the truthfulness of the collected information which the same was predicated on before it was recklessly republished online.
“By the same token, the observance of the strict implementation and imposition of penalties in the crime of cyber libel is not aimed to curtail the guaranteed freedom of expression, but rather serves as a major deterrent to the damaging and defaming of a person’s reputation that could easily and successfully be carried out at one’s fingertips,” the court said.