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Congress ratifies amendments to Sotto law

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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

A bill amending the so-called Sotto Law now awaits President Rodrigo Duterte after the Congress has ratified the bicameral conference report before ending its session.

Principally authored by Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar and Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III respectively, House Bill 684 and Senate Bill 1255 aim to expand the coverage of exemptions from revealing the source of published news or information “obtained in confidence” by “including journalists from broadcast and news agencies.”

According to the Cebu solon, it has been the journalist’s privilege statute by which he or she can refuse to reveal the source of a confidential news report or information except when the court or a Congressional panel finds that the revelation is demanded by the security of the State

Del Mar explained the present law under Republic Act No. 53 or the Sotto 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,” said Del Mar.

Del Mar stressed that when Sotto Law was enacted more that seven decades ago, “electronic journalism was virtually non-existent.”

“The news or wire agencies and internet publications still had to be developed and recognized, and the internet was not even a dream,” said del Mar.

He added that broadcast stations during that era only played music or drama and gave the news but did not hire news reporters.

The proposed amendment to Sotto Law “provides that without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws, any publisher, owner, or duly recognized or accredited journalist, writer, reporter, contributor, opinion writer, editor, columnist, manager, media practitioner involved in the writing, editing, production, and dissemination of news for mass circulation, of any print, broadcast, wire service organization, or electronic mass media, including Cable TV and its variants, cannot be compelled to reveal the source of any news item, report or information appearing or being reported or disseminated through said media which was related in confidence to the abovementioned media practitioners.

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

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