Last June, the Senate passed on third and final reading Senate bill No. 2150. The House is set to deliberate on second reading House bill No. 3306 and may pass it on third and final reading before the Christmas break.
The House measure, which is authored by Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella, seeks to punish the publisher and editor in chief of a publication, or the owner and station manager of a broadcast medium if they fail to give equal treatment to a complainant’s reply to a specific report.
Of course Malakanyang supports the bill. Hell, it’ll prolly be the biggest beneficiary if the law is ever enacted. But that’s really beside the point. This is the point:
Media organizations have vowed to challenge in court the right to reply bill if it is passed in Congress, saying the measure violates the freedom of the press and free expression.
My initial reaction was WTF? A law that forces media outlets to give equal right to reply to those aggrieved by their reports violates press freedom? I don’t get that. The bill doesn’t prevent the press from writing about the whatever the hell they want; it just tries to guarantee that the freedom isn’t abused.
But then again, free expression? Well, yeah, I guess. After all the freedom of expression includes the freedom not to express, ergo – if you have the right to publish or air anything you want, it logically follows that you also have the freedom not to publish or air anything you feel shouldn’t or need not be published or aired.
On the one hand, I can’t accept that the right to reply bill is going to muzzle anyone. At least to the extent of making people – people like Mon Tulfo and Cristy Fermin – think twice about throwing out unsubstantiated allegations. But then again, they shouldn’t be indulging in that kind of vicious gossip mongering anyway.
On the other hand, I’m thinking that media outlets are commercial endeavors and they will do whatever is best for their bottom line. The right to reply might end up eating up so much space that it won’t be good for the outlet financially.
If you approach it from this point of view, you can see how the first argument might actually be valid. Think about it: If accomodating right to reply demands becomes too costly, news outlets will ramp down their production of hard-hitting articles. That’s called a chilling effect, and yes, the chilling effect does have an adverse impact on the freedom of the press. If not due to external pressure or prior restraint, then certainly through a financial vice-grip.
I have as much against libelers as anyone, and if you look at the right to reply bill simply as a protection against libel, well then it’s okay. But it would be wrong to simply focus on one effect of the concept, especially if it is about to be enshrined in law. That would be what Jess Dureza is doing when he pimps this bill; and it is intellectually dishonest for him to be doing so.
Future laws must be viewed holistically; with an objective assessment of its many ramifications. You take the good effects – like providing extra protection against libel – and the bad effects – the chilling effect – and then you weigh the two. In this case, I would much rather inconvenience people by forcing them to file libel suits than to dampen the press’ zeal to expose the truth. I say we’re just gonna have to tolerate the crack-pots and hope that they can be taught their lesson in responsible journalism by the Penal Code.