Cybercrime Law – repressive state apparatus?

There is no denying that just a handful of conglomerates control major media outlets in the Philippines, just like in the United States. And as the political and economic theory of the mass media argues, this set-up directly affects the way media messages are constructed (as well as whose values it seeks to protect and propagate)[1]. This is in line with Karl Marx’ contention that the “ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas[2].”

Expounding on this thought, we can all say that since media organizations are run by giant corporations, they will always produce content that reinforces the ruling ideology or the hegemony. In the Philippines, for instance, the media seldom produces reports detailing the questionable practices of multinational and local capitalists in the country (e.g. violation of labor laws, tax evasion, destruction of the environment, and many others) mainly out of fear of losing income from advertising.

For many years, the media has served as the only conduit by which information reaches the public. The media has invested upon it the role of a gatekeeper. Ergo, it has the power to decide the things which the public has the right to know about. In effect, the media gets to shape in profound ways how people perceive the reality around them. However, since the media can be used by the ruling class as an ideological state apparatus[3], this version of reality may in fact be corrupted.

Karl Marx 1882 (edited)

Karl Marx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, hegemony does not go unchallenged forever. Hegemony is also characterized by continuous resistance and instability[4]. People are not mere rubberstamps who will accept hook, line, and sinker whatever the ruling ideology prescribes them to do or to be. These “deviants” are active participants in the constant redefinition of what the ruling ideology should be. With its ready accessibility to essentially everyone, the cyberspace is one of the means by which these ideological battles happen.

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Previously, Filipinos will have to send a letter to the editor of a newspaper to express his or her views about a certain news report. This is by no means a failsafe way of expressing oneself. Readers are at the mercy of the newspaper editor. If the editor does not like what they wrote or if the space allotted for the publication of such is limited, most likely the letter won’t get published. Of course, news managers would prefer publishing the views of a well-known “thought leader” rather than that of a common folk.

The Internet has changed the game for the better – and this arguably helped in making the media more democratic. Nowadays, readers can react to a particular report through the comment section of a news website. They can also make their views known through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and their own blogs. Community and alternative press like and Pinoy Weekly can now reach a wider audience without worrying about printing and distribution costs.

It used to be that the only time the public can hold their elected leaders accountable for their actions are during elections. While the respective office addresses and phone numbers of most government officials can be easily known, is it really an effective way of making known one’s grievances against them?

Instances of activism among Filipinos netizens have been widely reported in recent times. In early 2011, they united in pointing out the inhumane way comedian Willie Revillame treated a young child who participated in his television variety show. In summer of this year, they once again united to lambaste Philippine Daily Inquirer’s insensitive caption on a photo featuring a Muslim woman that appeared in their front page. And this August, netizens were in fact the ones that discovered the plagiarized parts in Senator Vicente Sotto III’s series of privilege speeches against the reproductive health bill, for which he received well-deserved public ridicule. Meanwhile, various online groups had been put up to expose “epal” government officials.

Thanks to the Internet, the people can now do things they can’t for a long time, and certain individuals in the government apparently cannot take this sitting down. Hence, we now have the all-too-powerful Cybercrimes Prevention Act of 2012 or Republic Act 10175. To be sure, the practice of the freedom of expression online has sometimes gone overboard. While individuals like road rage suspect Robert Blair Carabuena truly deserved to be condemned for their abhorrent behaviour (in his case, he physically assaulted a traffic enforcer), making online death threats directed to him or to post his private details in the Internet is unjustifiable.

robert blair carabuena

Robert Blair Carabuena (photo taken from Facebook)

Nevertheless, it is apparent that RA 10175 will be used as a repressive state apparatus mainly by politicians like Sotto especially since they now know that the public is watching their every action and are more than capable of venting their frustration online. The provision on online libel is the most controversial provision of RA 10175, and for good reason. In the past, powerful politicians like former President Gloria Arroyo and ex-House Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. have filed libel charges against journalists who published negative articles like them.

Repressive state apparatuses are used when ideological state apparatuses prove to be unreliable in controlling the people. Since it will be futile for the government to curb the Internet access of Filipinos unlike their counterpart in China, it is instead hoping to use RA 10175 to regulate the activities of Filipinos in cyberspace. By seeking to control the cyberspace through RA 10175, the state is trying to muzzle the harsh criticisms it has been enduring from its constituents.

[1] Chomsky, Noam and Edward S. Herman. (1998). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[2] Butler, Jeremy G. (1994). Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Belmont, California:Wadsworth.

[3] Baran, Stanley J & Dennis K. Davis. (1995). Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment and Future. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

[4] Storey, John. (1993). An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (2nd ed.). London: Prentice Hall.


About Mark Madrona

Mark Madrona is a prize-winning blogger, online journalist, and educator from the Philippines. Previously a book editor, he is now teaching communication subjects for a private college in Metro Manila. His blog The Filipino Scribe received the Best Blog Award during the 2011 Population and Development Media Awards. He is the youngest recipient of that recognition. Know more about him here: View all posts by Mark Madrona

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