Bill filed vs. fake news: Up to ₱10M fine, 10-year jail time for erring public officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22) - A bill seeking to penalize those who spread fake news was filed in the Senate – and it wants stiffer penalties for erring government officials.

Senator Joel Villanueva, a member of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, filed on Tuesday Senate Bill No. 1492, entitled an "An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations."

The bill defines false news  as information which "intend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one's reputation."

Under the bill, violators will face a fine of up to ₱5 million, and imprisonment of up to 5 years.

"If the offender is a public official, he or she will be made to pay twice the said amount of fine, and twice the period of imprisonment; and absolute disqualification from holding any public office," Villanueva said in a statement.

This is tantamount to a fine of up to ₱10 million and imprisonment of up to 10 years.

Those found to have aided or encouraged the spread of fake news will be fined up to ₱3 million, and imprisoned for up to three years. Any media platform who fails to regulate and remove fake news will be punished with a fine of up to ₱20 million and a 10-year jail time.

Public officials who commit any of these violations shall face twice the amount of fine and twice the number of years in prison.

"The recent events involving our public officials who failed to validate information that resulted to the spread of false information make matters worse. The proliferation of fake news should not be tolerated especially when the public interest is at stake," Villanueva said.

He cited Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre's allegations in a June 7 press conference that opposition lawmakers had a hand in the Marawi City attack.

Later that day, Aguirre clarified his remarks, saying he was "misquoted" by the media, despite video and audio recordings of his original statements.

Media group National Union of Journalists in the Philippines and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, on June 6 launched "Fakeblok," a Google Chrome plug-in downloadable from the Chrome store that flags fake news and misinformation on Facebook.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Thursday also called on the public to stop spreading fake news.

De Lima vs. PNA

Meanwhile, detained Senator Leila De Lima filed Resolution No. 405, calling for an inquiry on lapses made by state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).

She said the PNA should not be a "fake news machinery."

On May 27, the PNA published an article entitled "Urban warfare a challenge for soldiers in Marawi," accompanied by a photo of a soldier - which was found out to be a picture taken during the Vietnam War. The PNA said two days later it became aware of the photo, which was sourced from Wikimedia Commons and immediately took it down.

The PNA was also under fire for a May 15 a story saying 95 states that attended the Universal  Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Swtizerland were convinced there are no extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. The UPR itself rebutted this claim in a tweet.

The PNA on May 30 said they "regret that these mistakes have cast doubt on our integrity as a news agency."

Read: PNA 'regrets' posting misleading news reports