Police warned they’re not qualified to classify news as false
The president of the Dominican Society of Newspapers (SDD), Persio Maldonado, and constitutional lawyer Namphi Rodríguez said yesterday that the announcement by the National Police that it will investigate the propagation of false, manipulated or decontextualized information about crime through digital media and social networks, may violate rights and introduce abusive practices.
They warn that this practice may pose risks to the exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of thought and the social and the democratic rule of law.
Furthermore, they agree that this issue is not within the competence of the National Police.
“The information does not cease to be worrying because of what it may imply in practice, that the Police, pretending to reach certain situations, may incur in abuses and situations that violate rights,” warned the president of the Newspaper Society.
Maldonado perceives that abuses can be committed against the media, trying to prevent some information, even if it is true, is prevented from being divulged to avoid generating panic in the population.
He also believes that the police do not have the right nor the capacity to determine the certainty or not of information because they would have to start from an assumption.
The director of the newspaper El Nuevo Diario said that the function of the police is the fight against delinquency, which he observes is a problem that has overflowed.
He affirmed that the measure might be more a state of incapacity to confront the issue of crime than a natural capacity to determine what they intend to attack drug trafficking and organized crime that could be behind it.
“The first impression I had is that it is more an action of desperation than a mechanism to fight crime, obviously, in that attempt of desperation abuses can be committed, mistakes can be made that would be more regrettable, than the purpose that is sought,” Maldonado warned.
He reported that President Luis Abinader summoned the media representatives to a meeting the following Monday to present a plan against delinquency.
He said that hopefully, in that space, some preventive mechanism could appear so that they do not start kicking and, in the end, affect constitutional rights.
He cited the latest study by the Reuters news agency from the United Kingdom, which established that in Latin America, around 50 percent of the information people receive is false, but wondered what capacity the police have to solve a planetary problem.
Freedom of expression
Jurist Namphi Rodríguez warns that the measure could violate freedom of expression and the democratic rule of law established in the constitutional regime.
“The most serious thing is that freedom of expression is based on no prior censorship, and if a system of police surveillance of freedom of expression is established, this could derive in prior censorship and affect the essential nucleus of this right established in Article 49 of the Constitution,” said Rodriguez.
He emphasized that it must be taken into consideration that social networks, with their lights and shadows, as the Constitutional Court has said in its sentence TC-0092-19, are a form of democratization and a powerful tool for denouncing and monitoring human rights.
“Pretending to establish a police system on complaints on social networks can lead to serious restrictions on freedom of expression,” the jurist pointed out.
“When we talk about fake news, we are talking about an extremely serious criminal offense. Who determines what is false news, it can be done by a police administrative authority, that is nonsense. That laxity is not given to the police authority. Freedom of expression has its own guarantees,” said the jurist.
Neither legal nor constitutional
He also pointed out that the police are not given this power by law or the Constitution but by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Neither can this criminal prosecution body sanction but submit a file to the judicial authority.
He said that to speak of false news is a vague concept of extreme vagueness.