Sticks and Stones

May 29, 3011

While CNMI legislators appear to be ignoring skyrocketing crime and overwhelming economic problems that are devastating the CNMI, now comes Rota Rep. Teresita Santos introducing a bill to criminalize libel in the CNMI.

H.B. 17-191, The CNMI Criminal Libel Act of 2011, proposes a fine not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than six months, or both, for violation of the law.

Of course it is impossible to locate the bill online because the Legislature's website leaves a lot to be desired.

The Saipan Tribune reports:
HB 17-191 says the easy transfer of information over the Internet in real time and through a majority of locations throughout the world has opened both opportunities and problems.

The freshman lawmaker's bill also cites the explosion of e-groups, blogs, message boards, chat rooms, and other forums where people share facts, views, and opinions.

“Hiding behind a veil of anonymity, it's not uncommon to see people's reputations trashed on the Web. In general, Web libel is posting false information about someone that defames them, commonly accusations of criminal acts, marital infidelity, dishonesty, or that individuals have a nasty disease. Until recently, there was not much that you could do to protect your good name on the Web, but that's changing,” Santos said in her bill.

The bill defines libel as “a malicious defamation, expressed either by writing, printing, or by signs or pictures, or by electronic means on the Internet, electronic bulleting board, chat room, message board, or other place, or the like, to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or publish the natural or alleged defects, of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”

Under the bill, no reporter, editor, or proprietor of any newspaper is liable for any prosecution for a fair and true report of any judicial, legislative, or other public official proceedings, or of any statement, speech, argument, or debate in the course of the same, “except upon proof of malice in making such report, which shall not be implied from the mere fact of publication.”

But it also says there is limitation on the privilege in reporting public proceedings.

“Libelous remarks or comments connected with matter privileged by the last section receive no privilege by reason of their being so connected,” the bill adds.
Truth and justice are revealed through the exchange of opposing ideas and opinions, but apparently some object to some bloggers and anonymous commenters who post their opinions on blogs and on the Marianas Variety's online edition.

Rep. Stanley Torres reportedly supports the bill and told a Marianas Variety reporter, " Santos must also have her own bad experiences with Variety online commentators."

He added that he will "ask her to make specific preference to online commentators and suggest a provision that will require this newspaper to reveal their real names."

A law could require a newspaper to reveal the names of posters most likely could be challenged in court. Most intelligent people can weed through online comments and see who is contributing to the conversation, who is posting nonsense, who has a political agenda, and who is a truth-bender.

Perhaps the bill should be titled the Suppression of the First Amendment, The Kill Freedom of Speech Law, or Stop the Criticism Act.

I am certain that slander and libel laws already exist in the CNMI, although it would be hard to check since the CNMI is probably the only U.S. locality that doesn't post its laws online.

Commenters post anonymously because they fear retaliation.  That fear is real in the CNMI where jobs are political gifts that can be taken back at will, officials freely violate the Open Government Act with no consequences, and corruption is commonplace.

Like some libel suits, this legislation appears to be introduced for the purpose of silencing certain speakers or specific speech. Beware whistle blowers. Those wishing to silence the opposition or freedom of speech are dangerous to basic democratic principles.

Some excellent information about libel and the Internet can be found The Bloggers Legal Guide.


Anonymous said...

In the beginning, I had a lot of respect for Santos because she was going against the ridiculous, Tenorio and Ogomoro.
Now it seems this lady has "got on the train" as many of the lawmakers kept telling Tina Sablan to do in the beginning, "not make waves"

Without seeing the bill it is impossible to really comment on it, BUT with Stanly getting involved it is sure to come out as another totally ludicrous, unenforceable, unconstitutional act.

It's not your money! said...

Poor Stanley. He makes himself such an easy target.

Yo, Stan! The U.S. Supreme Court said that if you're a public figure, you can't be libeled even when a porno rag jokingly says you had sex with your own mother in an outhouse! It's all part of the discourse of ideas critical to our democracy. Hustler v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988). If you can't stnd the heat, then get out of the outhouse--er, the kitchen!

Anonymous said...

The Variety blogs crack me up. There are only about six people at most that comment under a dozen or more aliases. One after another, day after day, night after night. The same person tagged Fitial the 'midnight smurf' and other insults. A more disturbing post was written by 'OustFitial!' under a news report about the two missing girls. The post itself was well written but using Fital's name as a commenter is disgusting. Perhaps they wanted to somehow align Governor Fitial with the two missing children? How would you feel if someone called themselves 'OustWendyDoromal!' and commented on every crime reported in the Variety? People might get the wrong idea about you. I respect wanting to better the CNMI but the person who lays awake late at night writing insulting posts under a dozen or more aliases needs to start taking their medication and seek help.

Anonymous said...

You know what is also interesting is that so many on line that are bigoted racist and attacking the US mainland outsiders, the Feds along with the contract workers and anybody else that is hired to do the work that many cannot or will not do.
They all have their hand out for the Fed money and the rest of what they cionsider their "entitlement" but want everybody to leave.
Now when there is a serious problem, POSSIBLY created by the lax Judiciary, parole boards and the rest of the legal system, the first thing they do is call in the Feds starting with the FBI, the US Military and now the present specialized FBI team.

I have noticed that lately the MV has been editing much of the racist comments as some have complained about their comments not being posted.
And now there are not much of these comments since this unfortunate sad case involving these children.
Lets see how much racist comments continue out after they find these children.

Anonymous said...

There's a disturbed MV blogger named 'Dora' who now blames Governor Fitial for the kidnapped girls not being found. This blogger is the same person as 'OustFitial!' and a dozen more. The anit-CNMI Government bloggers are out in force using this tragedy to fuel their rage and discontent. Where does this rage come from? They most likely didn't get the Government job that they wanted. They are broke, angry people who spend countless hours writing filth and attacking anyone who disagrees with them. The blogger that calls Gov Fitial the 'midnight smurf' needs to seriously seek mental health treatment. There are services available and it's confidential.

Anonymous said...

1. Many US states have criminal libel statutes. So the idea isn't completely crazy.

2. But what the CNMI politicians likely don't know is that it's really hard for a public figure to win a libel lawsuit (or prosecution). By virtue of their being a public figure, the bar is that much higher, and things it's not ok to say about a private person are completely ok to say about a public figure. Also, truth is an absolute defense against libel.

3. Dora is a kindergarten teacher, and you can see the kindergarten-level taunts (smurf, etc) in her posts. You can also see the kindergarten-level thinking.