Akbayan frowns upon Pnoy’s defense of Cyberlibel

Akbayan partylist today expressed its opposition to the position taken by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III that effectively stands by the cyber-libel provision even if the President offers the concession of a reduction in penalty.

“We take exception to the position taken by President on this matter. PNoy’s support for the cyberlibel provision in the face of legitimate concerns raised against it by netizens and journalists is extremely disappointing, ” Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said.

The political party which is an ally of the President also dismissed Malacanang’s offer of reduction in penalty concerning cyberlibel saying a reduction of penalties will not result in a reduction of the chilling effect.

“The reduction in penalties does not address the inherent flaw of any state regulation deigning to penalize libel committed in cyberspace: it will primarily target not only professional media practitioners, but also private individuals who look to cyberspace, particularly social networking sites, as a medium to freely express their sentiments,” Bello said.

“The fact of penalty is enough to create prior restraint on the author of the speech, particularly if the author of the speech is a private individual without the wherewithal to fight off the criminal charges that may potentially arise. Critical debate and the articulation of divergent ideas will wither from the looming shadow of criminal liability,” Bello added.

Akbayan also pointed out that the reduction in penalties does not address the issue of the power of the Secretary of Justice to take down or block speech upon a prima facie showing that a violation of the Cybercrime Act has been committed.

“We strongly believe that even if the criminal charge does not eventually prosper, the clamp-down on speech found to be libelous at the discretion of one government agency is a clamp-down on freedom of expression and civil liberties,” Bello said.