Be mindful of libel, campus journalists told

JOURNALISM FORUM Lawyer-educators Joseph Noel Estrada (top left) and Saul Hofileña Jr. (bottom left) join The Manila Times Chairman and CEO Dante Francis ‘Klink’ Ang 2nd (top right) and Campus Press editor Arlo Custodio (bottom right) in discussing ‘Libel, cyberlibel, copyright and fair use: Media practices and individual rights in the age of social media’ for campus journalists as well as their friends and mentors in the Campus Journalism online forum on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

AS campus journalists and teachers engage more in the practice of journalism with online and social media, education experts and lawyers reminded them to be mindful of libel, cyberlibel, copyright and fair use in producing their works to ensure that press freedom prevails.

Speaking during The Manila Times and Manila Times College online forum “Libel, cyberlibel, copyright and fair use: Media practices and individual rights in the age of social media,” San Beda University College of Law Professor and former Asian Development Foundation College of Law dean, lawyer Saul Hofileña Jr., said that a fair and true report is made in good faith, without any comments or remarks.

He explained that libel is a crime against honor and should present the following elements: there is publication or publicity; words must refer to a vice, crime or defect; words must be malicious and tending to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt; and there must be identification by a third person.

“In every malicious imputation, libel is presumed. Pinapalagay ng law na ginawa mo 'yan, sinulat mo 'yan (The law presumes that you made it, you wrote it) for the purpose of destroying the reputation of another person,” Hofileña said.

He pointed out that there are also defenses in libel such as absolutely privileged communication and qualified privileged communication.

He added that a natural or judicial person may be libeled, as well as a dead person.

Libel may be committed on radio or print, lithography or engraving, or through television or similar means, and the people responsible for it may include the author, publisher, editor, writer and reporter.

He also emphasized that with the use of online technology and social media, cyberlibel has surfaced. However, it is only a new crime because technology is now being used.

On the other hand, Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (Cocopea) Managing Director and Estrada and Aquino Law Managing Partner lawyer Joseph Noel Estrada emphasized that copyright is a legal protection for original works and derivative works, including dramatizations, translations, adaptations and abridgment.

He explained that copyright is granted upon the creation of content and runs during the entire lifetime of the creator. It expires 50 years after death.

He also compared plagiarism versus copyright infringement, emphasizing that plagiarism may be prevented by merely citing the source1/s of information while the issue of copyright infringement, or the use of copyrighted material without permission from the creator or owner, may involve a legal issue.

Despite this, Estrada also pointed out that there is fair use of copyrighted material, so long as it was done in a reasonable manner, such as for criticism, comment, news reporting and teaching.

The two lawyers differed in opinion on whether libel, cyberlibel, copyright and fair use should be introduced to students.

Estrada said that there should be efforts in integrating them into lessons for students in the early years — by learning how to respect other people's work as their own and not copying the works of others — while Hofileña said that it should stay in law school as these matters could be complicated for younger learners.

With the practice of journalism being tested with the use of more technology for reporting and with campus journalists also taking on a bigger role in the practice of journalism, Hofileña advised those who are charged with libel to hire a lawyer to help address the issue immediately.

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