Media insists that the proposed law is “anathema to democracy” while lawmakers contend that it is a measure to counter the tendency among journalists to resort to “trial by publicity.”
BY AYI MUALLAM
Posted by Bulatlat
The debate over the Right of Reply Bill (RORB) pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives has gone full blast, with lawmakers and journalists issuing statements over the weekend that seek to clarify their positions on the controversial proposal.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Friday reiterated its stand that the RORB should never be passed into law, describing it as “anathema to democracy, to freedom of expression and of the press”.
“The media have always recognized the right of reply as a legitimate right of citizens. Media organizations as a rule acknowledge this and maintain a set of rules to ensure this right is acknowledged during the editorial process. But enacting a law on the right of reply distorts this right to favor politicians who are oversensitive to criticism. It is this attempt to caricature a political right to favor those in power that we in media are critical of,” NUJP said in a statement.
Earlier, NUJP and other media groups including the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and representatives of GMA, BusinessWorld, ABS-CBN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), BusinessWorld, denounced the bill as an “act of terrorism against the media”.
Neri Colmenares, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, explained that the RORB is “inherently defective,” as it violates Article III Sec. 4 of the 1987 Constitution (“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”) and several principles of criminal law.
He cited the vague provision of the bill mandating the publication or broadcast of the replies of all persons who “are criticized by innuendo, suggestion, or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life.” “The elements of the crime are not clear. Who decides what is ‘innuendo, suggestion, or rumor’ or ‘lapse in behavior’?” Colmenares said.
No Curtailment of Press Freedom
Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Gregorio Honasan, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson and Juan Miguel Zubiri urge members of the House of Representatives to go ahead with the passage of the bill despite the strong objections from various media groups and even the withdrawal of support for the bill by several legislators.
They called on critics to acknowledge the inherent merits of the bill that seek to uphold the freedom of expression both of media practitioners and their readers-listeners and enhance responsible journalism.
Pimentel, principal author of the bill in the Senate, emphasized that the bill will primarily recognize the right of any person to present his side in response to a report or commentary that is inaccurate, unfair and defamatory to him.
According to Honasan, the bill is necessary to curb the tendency of irresponsible journalists to engage in “trial by publicity” that may inflict irreparable harm on the reputation of innocent individuals.