A Philippine court has just agreed that “cyber libel” is possible in that country and that Maria Ressa is guilty of it. Whether she is or she isn’t is not quite the point of this little piece here. Whether cyber libel is possible though seems obvious enough:
One of the Philippines’ most prominent journalists, Maria Ressa, is facing up to six years in prison after she was found guilty on Monday of “cyber libel” charges, a verdict condemned as setting “an extraordinarily damaging precedent” for press freedoms in the region.
The verdict was issued by Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa in a Manila court, where just a limited number of attendees were permitted as part of coronavirus prevention measures. Rappler, one of the country’s most influential news websites, its editor, Ressa, and former researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr were accused of cyber libel in 2017.
Rappler was found to have no liability, but both Ressa and Santos were found guilty. They are entitled to post-conviction bail, and can appeal the verdict. They have been ordered to pay P200,000 (US$3978.37) in moral damages and another P200,000 in exemplary damages.
True, jail for libel seems a bit extreme, it’s a civil, not criminal, offence in our own dear jurisdiction.
However, this does seem a little extreme as a reaction from Richard Murphy at the Tax Research blog:
What is the significance?
First of all, for press freedom in the Philipines, which was already under threat, it is dire.
Second, for Maria Ressa, a gross injustice is being done.
Third, it’s only time before right-wing thugs copy each other. How long before ‘fake news libel’ becomes commonplace and press freedom disappears?
Fourth, blog freedom goes as well in that case, of course.
As, fifth, does democracy.
That could be rather overegging it. For cyber libel is a real thing:
Lord Ashcroft, the chairman and majority shareholder in BB Holdings Limited, accepted a public apology and a substantial undisclosed donation to a charity he founded – Crimestoppers – from accountant Richard Murphy.
Murphy, a director of Tax Research LLP, who has a website, Tax Research UK and a related blog, will also pay the legal costs of the peer and two subsidiaries of BB Holdings – The Belize Bank Ltd and Belize Bank International Ltd.
Lord Ashcroft’s counsel, Godwin Busuttil, told Mr Justice Eady at the High Court that in April this year Murphy published an article on his website entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s Belize Bank – a supplier of tax evasion services?”
It accused the claimants of knowingly and intentionally supplying or offering to supply banking facilities which enabled or assisted customers unlawfully to evade tax and which provided anonymity for those who had indulged in criminal activity and which enabled or assisted the laundering of dishonestly or criminally acquired funds by using the Bank’s corporate credit cards.
Busuttil said that when the errors were pointed out, Mr Murphy unreservedly apologised, removed the article and confirmed that he had taken steps to ensure that references to it were removed from third parties websites.
Murphy, who represented himself in court, sincerely apologised for the embarrassment suffered and undertook not to repeat the allegations.
As we all know British democracy has been in significant decline since 2009. The Tories have been in power, what other proof do we need?