Diverse range of laws, competent agencies like NBI can fight fake news, veteran journo tells senators

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InterAksyon editor in chief Roby Alampay

MANILA, Philippines — Disinformation, or any deliberate act to mislead people — now widely tagged “Fake news” — has existed for a long time and requires no new legislation to conquer. There are enough laws and institutions to fight them, InterAksyon and BusinessWorld editor in chief Roby Alampay told a Senate hearing Tuesday.

Sought for comment by Senator Grace Poe at the second hearing she called on “fake news,” Alampay said he was “on the same page” as PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar in saying a diverse range of measures is available to the aggrieved.

“At bottom, there are enough laws – on libel, cybercrime, anti-bullying, anti-violence against women and children, against disinformation; there are laws that hold government accountable for data/info they come up with,” Alampay said.

From the last hearing, he said he learned from practitioners that there are also laws regulating lobbying, particularly when a lobbying practice borders on spreading false information.

Nothing in terms of basic disinformation is actually new, Alampay said, pointing to the white papers that were resorted to in the seventies and eighties, and other forms of information and disinformation that were spread through old media. “They’ve existed for the longest time.”

Meantime, he stressed, “we continually strive to protect a balance between the protection of the reputation  of people and entities versus the rights of people – freedom of expression, press freedom.  That balance is something we work very hard for. That’s the slippery slope” all practitioners always warn of, he added, that “every time we open this subject we’re very careful.”

The real fear, therefore, said Alampay, “is we might use these new problems, these new methodologies, new technologies” now figuring in disinformation and other bad practices “to reopen an old can of worms.” As examples, he recalled that in the last hearing, legislators were already mulling over laws possibly banning people from using pseudonyms and whether criminal defamation laws should be bolstered.

“I believe the laws are there, we must encourage people to use the law,” he said.

NBI good at cybercrime fight

Besides the law, Alampay said competent entities exist to help people fight disinformation and other damaging acts in both old and new media.

He cited the sterling record of the NBI’s cybercrime division, which he said has “world-class capability,” based on many reports and the track record of NBI in cyber sleuthing, from the days of the “I Love You” virus when the “NBI was able to track down an anonymous hacker who literally brought down internet worldwide.”

There is a lot history and experience to show that with dedication, with the right investment, “we can fight back. The important thing is to use our rights, to use our laws, to fight back.”

He agreed with the notion that anyone on government has a bigger responsibility to spread information, and must face tougher accountability when spreading disinformation, or enabling any infrastructure or network for such.