Journalists, Lawmakers Debate ‘Right of Reply’ Bill

Withdrawal of Support

Vice President Noli De Castro, a veteran broadcast journalist, is rejecting the Right to Reply measure.

Though De Castro described the bill as as a wake-up call for erring journalists, he stressed that there is no need for any legislation that would require media firms to publish or air every reply on news items coming their way.

“I don’t see the need for a law requiring journalists to give the opportunity for their subjects to reply. This is already ensured in their sworn duty as journalists based on their Code of Ethics, giving the chance of response to the parties involved in their stories,” he said.

De Castro’s announcement came after Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairman Leila de Lima opposed the passage of the bill into law.

“The [CHR] recognizes the rights to freedom of speech, of expression and the press, and has always opposed its curtailment in whatever form including proposed legislation,” said de Lima.

“The imposition on broadcast or publication outfit that the reply should be aired or printed ‘as such’ [even if deletion of libelous statements is allowed] within three days from receiving the reply robs the press of its right to edit. This can also be considered prior restraint” de Lima explained.

Sen. Loren Legarda, also a former journalist, announced on Thursday her withdrawal of support for the bill stating that, “… I now realize that an untrammeled press is better than a press that is dictated by authority.”

“It is my strong conviction that any law dictating to the media what to write, what to publish, or what to broadcast is a violation of this provision against one of the important pillars democratic freedom. The practice is abhorred as a prior restraint in a democratic society such as ours. It is true that there is no absolute right. The freedom of the press or expression is not absolute because it is still subject to the laws of libel or slander,” she explained.

Senators Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas and Alan Peter Cayetano also backed away from the bill that they have passed. Escudero and Roxas both proposed that journalists should exercise self-regulation while Cayetano said that the prevailing political conditions did not favor its passage into law.

Veto Power

Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez on Thursday said that that while lawmakers might have the right to create such measure, the president would veto the bill if it contains provisions that would violate the Constitution, particularly the freedom of the press.

“Of course, because the President will always protect the Constitution. If it curtails any press freedom, then, it will never get the support of the Palace,” he said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita advised news organizations to express their apprehensions before Congress or to challenge the bill in court after it becomes law.

“… We must guard with much zealousness freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and should that bill be deliberated upon it would be well for our lawmakers to understand that that is the very essence of democracy,” Ermita said.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said in a radio report on Saturday that, “the ball is now in Congress” and that Malacañang is waiting for the final version of the controversial Right of Reply Bill (RORB) to see if the President will veto it.

“As I repeated time and again, the President is an adherent to press freedom and will not allow the passage of any bill that will violate press freedom. Whether the RORB will be consistent with this principle or not, that will be dependent in its final form. In the meantime the battleground is in Congress,” Remonde said. Pinoy Press / Posted

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