Libel, e-Libel or Internet Libel

We see the explosion of e-groups, blogs, message boards and other fora wherein people share facts, views and opinions. With respect to established institutions, particularly newspapers, the Online Journalism Review reports how the Washingtonpost.com made good use of the internet to expand the reach – and revenue – of its parent paper. Gauging from the number of advertisements in Inq7.net, the same may as well hold true in the Philippine setting.

The vast reach and infinite potential of the internet is beyond dispute. Indeed, the easy transfer of information over the internet – on real time basis and through territorial jurisdictions – has opened great possibilities, both in terms of opportunities and problems. If you consider the huge amount of content written about almost everyone in the internet, it will not be long before someone gets really pissed and files a case for libel. In fact, there are already pending cases.

There are many interesting issues with respect to e-libel or internet libel. For instance, in Dow Jones vs. Gutnick (an Australian case), one of the issues is the definition of “publication” in cyberspace: whether material is published when it is uploaded onto computer servers, or when it is downloaded by readers. The distinction is important because it helps determine which country or state’s libel laws should apply to the published material. (Also refer to E-Legal: Online Defamation – It’s a Small World After All or Australian Court Ruling Could Extend Reach of Libel Law)

In the Philippines, the “multiple publication rule” applies. It means that if a single defamatory statement is published several times, it gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications.

In the days to come, we will be exploring the significance of these issues in relation to Philippine laws. At this juncture, however, let’s discuss the basic concept of libel.

What is libel?

Libel is “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” (Art. 353, RPC) See also Brillante vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. Nos. 118757 & 121571), a 2004 case decided by the Supreme Court.

In Philippine jurisdiction, the truth is not always a defense. While something is true, if the purpose is to besmirch, then liability still exists. To be liable for libel, the following elements must be shown to exist: (1) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (2) publication of the charge; (3) identity of the person defamed; and (4) existence of malice.

As a rule, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive is shown (Art. 354, RPC). As an exception, the presumption of malice does not apply in privileged communication, which may be absolute or conditional.

Absolutely privileged communications is one wherein no liability, even if its author acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them, in the course of said proceedings, provided that said allegations or statements are relevant to the issues, and the answers are responsive or pertinent to the questions propounded to said witnesses.

Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith. Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those mentioned in Article 354 of the RPC:

1. A private communication made by a person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty. The following requisites, however, must exist: (a) the person who made the communication had a legal, moral, or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made; (b) the communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought; and (c) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice.

2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

The fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character of the communication simply does away with the presumption of malice, and the plaintiff has to prove the fact of malice in such case.

Philippine cases

When this article was first posted, I tried to trace a criminal complaint that was filed in Lapu-lapu City in connection with an alleged libelous matter in an e-mail. According to a newspaper report [SunStar Cebu – “Cabaero: e-Libel”], the complaint was dismissed by the investigating fiscal because “electronic evidence, like an e-mail, cannot be used for criminal action”. I wanted to check the entire resolution of the fiscal just to see how an email could NOT be used in a criminal case for libel. Unfortunately, when I got in touch with the reporter (Ms. Nini Cabaero, who graciously replied to my email), she told me that she can no longer retrieve the details of the case.

I thought it would be a while before another e-libel case comes along. Then I heard the President of Parents Enabling Parents Coalition (see the links at PCIJ) being interviewed by Compacheros Baja and Taberna. Multiple libel cases – which stemmed from the allegedly libelous comments on PEP’s blog – were already filed in court. (We cannot, of course, comment on the merits because of the pendency of the case. Nevertheless, I would presume that among the potential issues is whether a blog author is considered the “publisher” of “libelous” comments posted in his or her blog.) Only recently, we were able to successfully defend an internet libel case (read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V of that discussion).

* See also the article of Dave Llorito: “End of Pinoy blogger’s age of innocence?” Note the statement that “bloggers are still safe” and the ruling discussed in Part III. Bloggers are not really safe from libel and we shall discuss why in another article.

19 thoughts on “Libel, e-Libel or Internet Libel

  1. Pingback: Philippine e-Legal Forum » Blog Archive » Crackdown on bloggers, websites

  2. Jake Bascao

    Hi,

    May I know whats the procedure to file an e-libel case?
    Would it be possible to file and e-libel case againts somebody who is out of the country?Or shall I wait for this person to comeback first in the country then I can proceed filing the case?

    Your reply would be greatly appreciated.Many Thanks!

    Sincerely,
    Jake B.

    Reply
    1. jon

      You cannot file an e-libel suit against a person not within the jurisdiction of our courts, because of the territoriality rule, and also, e-libel is not an international crime.

      Reply
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  8. basurera0103

    Hi!

    I’ve read some of your articles concerning e-libel cases. I have a few questions though. I’m planning to file a case po kc against this person. This may sound so petty but a lot of damage has been done that’s why I’m seeking your advice/opinion. When I say a lot I mean a lot. Pag may gatherings na magkikita kami pati yung common friends namin hindi ako makapunta kasi po they’ve read her posts/blogs.

    To give you an idea of what happened, it started po kc when she posted a shout out in this networking site that we both use. She didn’t drop names with the first few posts but I know they were intended for me. In other words, parinig parinig lang at first. But, nag-d-doubt pa din po ako whether ako ga yung pinaparinggan nya or not since wala naman akong ginawa sa kanya para gawin nya sakin yun. So what I did was I posted a shout out din (which is in general) but speaks of her. My posts were in general like “what goes around, comes around” and the like. And then for every post I make, she answers back though still not dropping names. So it’s clear that she’s referring to me nga. And then it got worse. She used the blog feature of the same networking site na to defame me. With her last blog entry recently lang, she mentioned my name na talaga.

    I’d like to know if this serves as enough ground to file a case against her. What are the pro’s and con’s of filing a case against her?

    I hope to get a reply from you soon. Thanks.

    You can email me @ jcqmejia@yahoo.com

    Reply
  9. michaelrobertsrexxfield

    This is an interesting article. I have personally been at the receiving end of vicious and malicious Internet libel and smear campaigns. One of the most frustrating aspects was when other people who have not experienced this debilitating type of attack, make statements such as “just ignore him (or her) and he’ll go way”. Or they might say something like “just get over it”.

    However, the amazing efficiency of the Internet and its search engine’s makes this horrible information available about you 24/7 globally. It destroys businesses, careers, relationships, finances, and peace of mind.

    So many of these discussions seem to be hinged on what is legally permissible, and what is legally actionable. I would like to see more conversations on what is morally acceptable with respect to posting information about people, truth, false or otherwise.

    Regards, Michael Roberts. Internet libel victim’s advocate.

    http://www.Rexxfield.com

    Reply
  10. Cristytan

    How about text messaging? can those be considered libelous? what if the text messages had been shown to another before or after it was sent?

    Reply
  11. armie_

    Hi! I’ve read the thread about this issue of e-libel and the internet, and would very much appreciate any opinion about my case.

    I have this relationship with a married man for almost a year now. Although that would be another story, my concern is this. He and I had some of our private moments recorded on video. His wife happened to get a copy of one of those, and threatened that this will be uploaded and disseminated on our network of friends and work associates. She had also started giving info about our discrete relationship at work. However, the wife said she has nothing to do with it, and insists that it must have been coming from her “friends” who only happen to be concerned about her. My question is, can i file anything against her or her “friends”? I can see from the text above that, “In Philippine jurisdiction, the truth is not always a defense. While something is true, if the purpose is to besmirch, then liability still exists.”

    Hope somebody can enlighten me. Thanks much.

    Reply
  12. law_jpg

    Good day, i would just like to inquire as to the legality of internet libel. i honestly believe that libel can be committed thru the internet. however, i have read a Supreme Court Decision mentioning that the Secretary of Justice issued a Resolution stating therein that there is no crime of “internet libel”..

    The SC case is designated as G.R. 184800 and dated 5 May 2010.. However, i do not know how to get a copy of such Resolution for concrete basis.

    any two-cent on this?

    thank you

    Reply
  13. Shelley

    Good day. I wanted to file libel case against this man who said in front of people that I’m a thief the daughter of company employee. I don’t have the experience yet about courtcases or anything but this man seems so hard and wanting me to tell everybody I am a thief that I steal second hand clothes from relief shop because they saw even if he cannot prove it just hearsay and even the owner of the shop dont know about this. He keeps telling people that I should be shamed because I am a thief. If I file a libel case . Do i win? It’s too much for me that this man keeps doing that. He can’t learn If I just ignore it as what other people say just ignore him because he is problematic , no money. But I really want to take action for this that’s why I’m asking here. If I file libel case against him would it be effective and winnable and does it cost him. and I dont have idea also how much it costs me all. Your reply is highy appreciated. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  14. Seeking a legal advice

    I need an advice how can I sue this person if she didn’t use her real name that she made another FB account? But I suspected that she’s the person was posted my pic and my son and wrote something not acceptable. Hopefully you’re reply. Tnx

    Reply

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