The right to reply
Senate Bill 2150, An Act Granting the Right of Reply and Providing Penalties Thereof has been approved by the Senate in mid-June of 2008.
Martial law oppositor and now minority floor leader Senator Aquilino Pimentel and Senators Ramon Revilla Jr and Francis Escudero served as co-authors of this bill whose main targets are, absolutely, the journalists.
In the House of Representatives, a similar measure under HB 3306 authored by Reps Monico Fuentevilla, Bienvenido Abante and Juan Edgardo Angara is now under consideration.
As with SB2150, the right to reply by the adverse party becomes a legal requirement for any publisher, editor or broadcaster to provide equal space and or time.
The supposed defenders of press freedom in the person of Pimentel and Escudero took the other side of the fence in what we can call in technical term as a 45 degree turn.
Rationalizing, Pimentel said the right of reply is part of the freedom of expression of the people intended to protect themselves from inaccurate or untruthful articles in various media that put them in bad light or malign them, intentionally or otherwise.
In the practice of journalism, it is a norm for most in the trade that all sides and parties to an issue are heard. Every effort is made to get the complete story of all and as in the court of justice, all facts, pros and cons are into it.
There are instance, though were due to the, unavailability of the either party, the rush and deadline considerations, one or the other side is insufficient or not taken at all. But in either case, it is a norm for journalist to give any party the right of reply.
In the pending Senate and House bills, it becomes mandatory for all of us; whether in broadcast or print, to give equal time and space for the ‘offended or maligned” party. In print, the publisher or editor has to give the same space and length to the party who has the right of reply.
Once the measure becomes a law, editor loses control over what to print, how materials are to be printed and how long the item would be.
This would certainly be a restriction on our freedom.
Article III in the Bill of Rights under Section 4 clearly states “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Freedom of the press connotes freedom from prior restraint or compulsion wherein there should be no instance where our control on what to write or publish is vested on others; whether they be private individuals, groups or government personalities.
Pimentel, Puentevella et al’s proposition is to impose upon us what needs to be written or spoken. That is clearly a prior restraint and if we fail to comply, we become subject of punishment.
It is not material here whether the penalties are imprisonment or monetary fines. The more crucial point is the sword of Damocles hanging over us media practitioners.
What we expect in our society is the continuing development of democracy however uneven it may be. It is not curtailment of the rights and freedom we enjoy.
We are witnessed to the massive display of political might when the First Gentleman filed libel cases against so many in our ranks. Although the cases were dropped, the fear instilled in some would bear on the works of the journalists , in general.
To force us to lie low or keep off on what needs to be done, not only are mediamen subjected to legal suits, a lot of people in the industry are made to vanished physically or murdered.
This is not what it used to be in our country and journalists and all-freedom loving Filipinos ought to stand guard to preserve the gains we made against the enemies of democracy.
Last week, the Philippine Press Institute, jointly with the Coca Cola Export Corporation, conducted a seminar-workshop on Civic Journalism. Noted journalists Vergel Santos and Yvonne Chua provided enough inputs for the participants, some of whom came all the way from Baguio City in Northern Luzon.
Civic journalism believes that a well-informed, empowered and responsible citizens help build better communities.
It’s practice goes beyond the questions who, what, where, when why and how when we do our stories. Doing it would include getting more points of view, taking into consideration the public good and welfare which is not necessarily the government where state propagandists do developmental journalism.
In a way, although media takes the middle ground, it always would give the public more opportunities to be heard. It is already handicapped in the first place and considering that the government is an entity for the people’s welfare, then anything that it does should serve the people’s ends.
It is correct to assume that the government does not make everything right however well intentioned the officials are and therefore it is the task of every journalist to see through in everything that government is going into.
The discussion in the media on the MOA-Ad is a classic example on how media help in exposing the potential break-up of the country in favor of a rebellious few in the South. The administrations failure would not have been brought out into the open had we contented ourselves with developmental journ.
If we had assume that everything that the government does is good, we are probably into civil war now between the MILF who would rule and the Christians, Lumads and others who certainly, would never agree to the arrangement which should have been signed in Malaysia.