Journalists, Lawmakers Debate ‘Right of Reply’ Bill

“In some extreme cases, this particular aspect of media irresponsibility spells the difference between freedom and incarceration, preserving a good name and the destruction of that name. The rule seems to be ‘You shoot first, and then continue shooting. Do not allow the target of your irresponsibility to reply in his chosen forum,” Honasan explained.

Arroyo believes that the people “will gain more out of the right of reply bill” and the media practitioners should not be scared of its enactment into law “because it is a very innovative, a very original and very novel bill.”

“It would enrich the concept of just what free press is all about, that it carries certain responsibilities and the public also have inherent rights which can be exercised,” Arroyo added.

“I would like to manifest my full support for the measure. I have also been the subject of this type of stories wherein my right to reply has also been violated. Even letters to the editor takes months to be actually published.” Zubiri said.

Resistance Stemmed from Fear

Angara, on the other hand, observed that the resistance displayed by journalists towards the bill stemmed from their fear that it will undermine their editorial freedom to decide what should be printed or to be broadcast in their respective media outlets.

“Some people suggest that it may also be protecting the newspaper’s space and broadcast time that is so valuable for them because if one is mandated and required by law to publish every single reply, then to that extent, we are reducing the print space or broadcast time for them,” he said.

Pimentel emphasized that the right to valuable space being controlled solely by the media has to be balanced by a corresponding right of the people to be heard in their own defense.

“If the offending criticism was done on the front page of a newspaper,” Pimentel said, “the newspaper may have what is called in journalism parlance as ‘ear,’ ‘ticker’ or ‘teaser’ prominently carried on the front page that calls attention to the publication of the reply on the same page or in some other pages.”

“What is important is that reason is used as a gauge to determine how much amount of space of the newspaper concerned when they hit a particular person should be devoted to the reply of that person,” Pimentel added.

Lacson said the bill should be flexible in terms of the amount of print space or airtime that media outfits were required to devote to people complaining of unfair stories or comments.

A ‘Win-Win” Solution

Senator Francis Pangilinan, another supporter of the bill, proposed a dialogue between members of the Senate and media groups to come up with a possible “win-win solution.”

He also suggested the Senate could desist from discussing it in the bicameral conference committee pending the outcome of a dialogue between the bill’s proponents and media groups.

“I believe that, regardless of the final outcome, this dialogue would help crystallize the issues for or against the measure and for this the public will well be served,” he said.

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