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Right to reply violates free expression

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you want, it logically follows that you also have the freedom not to publish or air anything you feel shouldn’t or need not be published or aired.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.


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Filed under: journalism, judiciary, law and order, , , , , , ,

17 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    Right of reply should cover only the Broadcast Media and can be availed of only by ‘private citizens’. (Government which includes the Opposition can reply via its own propaganda arm, i.e. NBN.) Also, ‘right of reply’ should extinguish any liability for libel on both parties.

  2. Bencard says:

    rom, with due respect, i think a right to reply is not a “chilling effect” to free expression anymore than lack of revenue (from eadership or advertising, or very low ratings with respect to broadcast media) is. right to free press is accorded to every person , individual or corporate, but i don’t think it was meant to be unbridled. responsibility is inherent in every right. no one should be able to make a living purveying lies without giving a chance to the victim a fair opportunity to show it as such.

    btw, limiting the right to “private citizens” only, and only against the broadcast media, will have serious constitutional problems particularly with respect ot equal protection and due process clauses. it is an ignorant, kakamamie idea.

  3. cvj says:

    what constitutional problems? limiting the right to ‘private citizens’ only is a feature of existing libel law. (and you call yourself a lawyer.)

    limiting the right of reply to broadcast media can be justified on the basis of its being granted rights to use a portion of the electomagnetic spectrum.

  4. the graph, i like. yet again, brilliant one, rom.

  5. Bencard says:

    what are non-private citizens? journalist? politicians? priests?
    you don’t know the libel law! criminal libel is applicable to every person, natural or artificial, in the philippines. you don’t know the constitutional principles of equal protection and due process. a little learning is dangerous.

    i don’t call myself a “lawyer”. the supreme court and all courts of the philippines, and federal courts and state courts of u.s.a. call me a lawyer (and no i.t. technician can question that).

  6. cvj says:

    bencard, look up the wikipedia entry on ‘public figure’. even an ‘i.t. technician’ like me can understand that there is a distinction between a public figure and a private citizen and having such a distinction does not violate equal protection.

  7. Bencard says:

    you’re hopeless. you don’t know what you’re talking about. a “public figure” may or may not be a citizen. a “private citizen” is always … well, a citizen. a private citizen may be a public figure at the same time, e.g., dolphy is a public figure but not necessarily a non-private (or public) citizen. you can’t just read wikipedia. you’ve got to comprehend what you’re reading.

  8. UP n grad says:

    right-to-reply is very different from suppression.

    freedom of the press/freedom-of-expression prevents the State from suppressing the right of the citizen to express his/her opinion, and one of the ways that a State can suppress expression is via taxation. It is taxation when a newspaper or a TV station is compelled to expend resources to propagate an opinion.

    Soon to come —- the spouse (or children or cousin or uncle) of the sitting-President invokes “right to reply” to force an oppositionist TV-station or oppositionist-newspaper to publish a defense of the sitting president.

  9. cvj says:

    Bencard, in terms of usage the term ‘private citizen’ is used to contrast from ‘public figure’. Even the Philippine Supreme Court makes use of these terms, as shown in this example.

  10. rom says:

    cvj: hey uncle. my brat brother is spending a week in singapore. how much should i give him as pocket money? I’m thinking of giving him US$. thanks.

  11. cvj says:

    rom, for food (per meal) 5 SGD if hawker food, can go up to 30 SGD per meal if in a restaurant (e.g. Chili crab). for transport via mrt, i think 20 SGD for the whole week. taxi is very expensive, can be 10SGD for a short trip.

    so for 1 week, 90SGD on the low side to 270SGD on the high side.

    exchange rate is 1.6 SGD to 1 USD.

  12. rom says:

    cvj:thanks uncle. I did some figuring too, and I came up with roughly the same figure. I’m giving him 200 SGD. The extra he can use for a spot of souvenir shopping, eh? Thanks again! *kiss*

  13. cvj says:

    You’re welcome rom.

  14. Bencard says:

    cvj, you never quit, do you? in the case you linked, “private” respondent is the term used to distinguish the individual co-respondent from the court of appeals (the government), which was also made a respondent on the appeal to sc. if still you don’t comprehend that, i give up!

  15. cvj says:

    bencard, before you ‘give up’, i suggest you read the link again, specifically, the part where Supreme Court ruling states:

    “In brushing aside the conclusion reached by the trial court, the Court of Appeals noted that private respondent was, at the time the article in question was published, not a public official but a private citizen seeking an elective office and petitioner Afable’s article was intended to impeach his honesty, virtue or reputation and to make him appear in the eyes of the public as unfit for public office.” -[emphasis mine for the benefit of Bencard]

    Scroll down a little and you’ll find the above paragraph.

  16. Bencard says:

    there’s no point to this exchange, cvj. obviously you and i don’t speak the same language. you can consult somebody who would have the patience to teach you or you can wallow in your ignorance, i don’t care.

  17. ANol says:

    I am for the respect of the right to reply. We urge fellow journalists to do this. What we journalists in Cebu are against is legislated right to reply because this means our legislators want to play editors. They do not understand the editorial function in a news outlet and in a democracy. Legislated right to reply hits the basic press function of being the fourth estate … to be a check and balance mechanism in a democracy.

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