The Grey Chronicles

2009.August.18

Bloggers Beware: Libel Is No Joke



For the past six days, I wrote events about «The Grey Chronicles» being warned with a libel suit. My research-fired mind relied on the one thing that exists which I am more familiar with: the Internet. I poured my efforts into a research on libel cases against blogs in the Philippines.

First there was the historic case of libel against the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism [PCIJ], Sheila Coronel (2005) reported:

“In compliance with the order of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has removed from this blog a post, dated August 12, 2005, describing the background and credentials of Jonathan Tiongco, the audio expert presented the same day by Environment Secretary Michael Defensor in order to question the authenticity of the «Hello Garci» recording.”

This was the first ever legal action—temporary restraining order [TRO]—issued against a blog in the Philippines. No longer available at PCIJ, the post is, however, cached and can be downloaded from the Google, Yahoo!Philippines and MSN web sites, all not covered by the court order. The Supreme Court states: “Free expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. Any deviation from this rule through judicial restraint can only be had after a proper trial of facts.”

The PCIJ lawyers reveals the following points:

“… last October 26 hearing that the [complainant’s wife] “failed to establish any actual injury that would result if the PCIJ blog post, which was on this site the past six weeks, were not removed.” [Emphasis added.]

“… all the facts and allegations reported in the PCIJ blog were also reported in other web sites, by major dailies, and by the broadcast media immediately after the congressional hearing in May 2005 (where Tiongco opposed the confirmation of Angelo Reyes as secretary of interior and local governments) and again in August, after he was presented as an audio expert by Defensor. But, the Tiongcos didn’t file cases or ask for TROs against these media organizations.” [Emphasis added.]

Another libel suit also gives some insights, filed by Versomina and Joel Aquino against DotPH (2009) due to posts made by a blogger – alimuom.i.ph on the i.ph WordPress-powered blogging platform. What interested me was not only about the events after the suit, but rather what alimuom.i.ph blogged about. When Joel Disini, CEO of DotPH, sought public opinion whether to close the alimuom.i.ph account; it received “overwhelming response”, but DotPH had to issue a subsequent appeal (2009a) for verifiable information.

Even before I started to blog back in June 2008, I have followed the thread on The Warrior Lawyer since then. It really pays to read. Although, a disclaimer was put above all else in his posts, it clarified what constituted Internet libel in the context of Philippine laws. Consequent to his two-part post, The Warrior Lawyer, also answered comments, elucidating certain readers’ questions on jurisdiction, public interest, good faith and truth, among other things. “Good faith and the public interest should guide and motivate bloggers,” he wrote (2007), but added:

“There are many definitions of public interest. A simple one would refer to the «common welfare» of all the members of the community or whether it is for the good of the majority. Again, this begs the question. How do we define «community» and the «rule of the majority» in an amorphous concept such as the blogosphere?”

I also followed similar threads of an article entitled Philippine Libel Law, Explained by another blogger, Rico Mossesgeld (2008), at Technograph, who asked:

“Is it possible then to formulate a standard phrase to establish «good motives and … justifiable ends»? Could such a tool protect bloggers and writers from baseless libel suits? Or worse, could it allow bloggers to defame targets maliciously with impunity?”[Emphasis added.]

Incidentally, several on-line resources list sites on e-libel, or libel on the Internet. Net Slander focused on defamation and distinguished slander from libel then offered points for defense. Another is CyberLibel, authored by David Potts, the site specialized on cyber libel issues. In the Philippine setting, an law professor publishes explanation of Philippine Laws in his website, AbogaDomo. There is also a self-study help on libel and related issues published at eHow – How To Do Just About Everything. Other resources are: Philippine e-Legal Forum, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Reporters Without Borders, among several others.

Some resources, however, are available off-line as printed books. Some printed media stylebooks such as those from Associated Press (1992), United Press International (1986), and even our very own Philippine Daily Inquirer has one, compiled and edited by Isagani Yambot & Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (1993), have also addressed these issues.

Most of these resources, moreover, advise: if a libel suit is slapped on something one has written, it is better to seek the advice of a licensed lawyer. In the advent of blogging, choose a lawyer with working knowledge on the Internet, or at least willing to learn the intricacies of blogging, and of course one who will passionately fight for your constitutional rights.


Notes:

Coronel, Sheila (2005). In a legal first, Quezon City judge issues TRO on PCIJ blog. Manila: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 04 November 2005. back to text.

Goldstein, Norm [ed.] (1992). The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. New York: The Associated Press, 1992. back to text.

i.ph (2009). Joel Disini, DotPH CEO, speaks about the Versomina libel case. Manila: Philippine Domain Registry, 19 January 2009. back to text.

i.ph (2009a). An Appeal to Versomina/Netpros Ex-Employees. Manila: Philippine Domain Registry, 23 January 2009. back to text.

Miller, Bobby Ray & McNeill, Robert S. [eds.] (1986). The UPI Stylebook. Washington, D.C.: United Press International, 1986. back to text.

Mossesgeld, Rico (2008). Philippine Libel Law, Explained. Technograph, 26 April 2008. back to text.

The Warrior Lawyer (2007). Libel on the Internet under Philippine Law. Makati: The Warrior Lawyer, 20 February 2007. back to text.

Yambot, Isagani, & Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (1993). The Philippine Daily Inquirer Stylebook: A Manual for Reporters, Editors and Students. Manila: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1993, pp. 191-197. back to text.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts on this site do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions; and unless otherwise expressly stated, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] Bloggers Beware: Libel Is No Joke « The Grey ChroniclesNet Slander focused on defamation and distinguished slander from libel then offered points for defense. Another is CyberLibel, authored by David Potts, the site specialized on cyber libel issues. In the Philippine setting, an law professor publishes explanation of Philippine Laws in his website, AbogaDomo. […]

    Pingback by Defense cyberlibel | FirstChoiceLocator — 2011.March.11 @ 10:54 | Reply

  2. Hello. Good day. I am a Journalism student. I wonder if where can i get more information about the Philippine Daily Inquirer Stylebook. I badly need it for my Newpaper Editing Class. I hope that you can help me. Thank you and Godspeed.

    Comment by Candice Brillon — 2010.July.3 @ 15:26 | Reply

    • I believe the PDI Stylebook is still available for sale at the PDI Manila office. If you are not Manila-based, maybe you could request a Manila-based friend to purchase for you a copy then send it to your address. That’s what I did!

      Comment by reyadel — 2010.July.5 @ 04:37 | Reply


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