In an age of fake news and misinformation prevalent online, the Judiciary reiterated its call for journalists to be seriously mindful of fulfilling their mandate to observe the accuracy, veracity and responsible verification of any information before disclosing it to the public.
That was the gist of the Court of Appeal’s 41-page ruling that upheld the conviction of Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, chief executive of online media company Rappler, and former researcher and organization writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. for violating Section 4(c)4 of Republic Act 10175, also known as the “Cybercrimes Prevention Act of 2012.”
The second division of the court sentenced the two men to a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The decision was written by Associate Justice Roberto Quiroz.
Associate Justices Ramon Bato Jr. and Germano Francisco Legaspi agreed with the decision.
Ressa and Santos were found guilty of cyberdefamation in 2020 following the complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng for publishing defamatory articles. Case records revealed that in the article published by Rappler, Santos depicts Keng as someone involved in several illegal activities, including human trafficking, murder, smuggling of illegal drugs and contraband cigarettes, and the illegal granting of residence visas to Chinese people, thus tarnishing its reputation and bringing it dishonour, discredit and public ridicule.
The CA said Rappler and Ressa cannot tarnish anyone’s name by spreading fake news.
“Journalists are meant to be reporters of fact, not fiction, and must be able to back up their stories with solid research,” he said.
Ressa remains free on bail.
The appeals court noted that while it was accepted that the article published by Rappler was based on an intelligence report and a similarly published article, there was no evidence that he verified the veracity of the information collected on which the same thing was founded before it was carelessly reposted online.
“Similarly, adherence to the strict enforcement and imposition of penalties for the offense of cyberdefamation is not intended to restrict the guaranteed freedom of expression, but rather serves as a major deterrent against the infringement and defamation of a person’s reputation which could easily and successfully be carried out at the fingertips,” the court said.