Wake Up, Philippines!

Right to reply: legislative blackmail

Posted in Congress, Constitutional Rights, Legislation, Media, Right To Information by Erineus on March 6, 2009

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:45:00 03/05/2009

The Right of Reply Bill seeks to enhance the access to the mass media of the people “who feel aggrieved by stories or commentaries which may be biased, inaccurate, and unfair to them,” according to its sponsors.

In his sponsorship speech, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the bill was drafted “in response to the frequent complaints of people who are the subjects of defamatory articles over the refusal or failure of newspapers or broadcast networks to present their side.”

“If the press has the right to offend or to mortify, the people should have the right to reply,” Pimentel said, emphasizing that the freedom of the press “is not the monopoly of members of the press.”

When Pimentel speaks of expanding the right to reply to “the people” who are offended by media reports, we have to ask, who are the people who are mortified and offended by these reports? Clearly, from verifiable evidence, Pimentel appears to be referring to a tiny segment of the people—the political elite, to which he belongs — who are mortified by media reports holding the power-holders accountable for their official acts and abuses in public office.

The right of reply bill seeks to protect a certain group of politically privileged citizens from media reports that expose abuses and corruption of officials. The poor, the underprivileged and the disadvantaged have no reason to complain or to clamor for the right to reply against newspaper reports simply because they have never been the targets or victims of media attacks. The media have historically and traditionally been on the side of the underdogs, who are abused and oppressed by power holders (including legislators, executive officials, police, security forces, bureaucrats). Unlike the power-holders and functionaries with public authority, the media have not bullied and trampled underfoot the underdogs of society. These are the groups which, according to the creed of President Ramon Magsaysay, have less in life and should have more in law.

The politically and socially disadvantaged comprise the majority of the population. They cannot see the relevance of these bills to the exercise of their freedom of speech, especially to join protests against corruption of the elites and the violence of security authorities in suppressing these protests. They cannot understand the concerns of the political elites, such as Pimentel and Rep. Monico Puentevella and those who have endorsed their bills, over media reports exposing abuses of power.

Consequently, there is no way Pimentel’s Senate Bill 2150 and Puentevella’s House Bill 3306 can benefit the underdogs — the victims of abuses of power by the elites. These bills are irrelevant to the underdogs because they have no use for this legislation. These bills are elitist and anti-poor in the sense that they would muzzle the media from denouncing the abuses and corruption of the political elites and curtail the right and responsibility of the media to expose wrongdoing in public office.

Pimentel is making false claims when he says that his bill extends the right of reply to “the people.” In reality, he is referring to a narrow segment of the people, who are already enjoying the legislative privilege of immunity from which the rest of “the people” are excluded. The bill expands the elite’s platform to attack private citizens and groups, as it curtails the freedom of editors to determine the stories they publish or broadcast. The bills grab space from private media to accommodate replies of offended persons, mostly legislators and other power holders, reacting to media attacks centered on public issues.

The political elites have closed ranks behind these bills to gang up on the media. This is a bad sign. The Senate, which is not always a bulwark of press freedom despite senators’ claim to be champions of civil liberties, has passed Senate Bill 2150 in a disgraceful 21-0 vote. The House of Representatives is reported to be sending back House Bill 3306 to the committee on information for review and amendments after further dialogue with media representatives. These steps, claimed to be in observance of “democratic process” in legislation, do not alter the fact that the media face an uphill struggle in getting Congress to kill the legislation. Legislators have warned the media against taking a hardline position, which is that the media cannot compromise their constitutionally-protected freedom to publish stories unfettered by legislated prior-restraint censorship. Indeed, despite all these appearances of a developing compromise, the conflict has hit an impasse.

It does not bode well for a resolution that the chair of the House committee on information, Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. has issued a veiled threat that journalists faced dire violent consequences if the media insisted in blocking the right of reply bill. “If you can’t ventilate in writing,” Abante said, “what will a person do but assassinate the journalist? If we include this [provision], it might drastically reduce such incidents.” He was referring to the scores of journalists killed during the past few years.

This is a false assumption. This statement is no different from the Mafia warning that if you interfered in the bootleg racket you would be riddled with submachine-gun bullets.

Unfortunately, many congressmen share this view. They are attracted to a solution that offers facile explanation to the orgy of assassinations of provincial journalists who attacked local officials for wrongdoing. The publication of replies could not have averted the assassinations. The reasons for the killings are complex.

This orgy of killings cannot be stopped by legislative blackmail on the right of reply bill.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090305-192554/Right-to-reply-legislative-blackmail

‘Media should regulate selves’–CHR

Posted in Censorship, Constitutional Rights, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 27, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The controversial right of reply bill pending could be an “undue intrusion” into the rights of media, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima said on Thursday.

Instead of passing a bill that would require media outfits to publish the reply of parties offended by reports or commentaries, lawmakers said the media should be allowed to “self regulate.”

“I always believe that it should be self-regulation by media, no legislation is needed. Self-regulation is the best tack,” De Lima said at a press conference in Camp Crame.

But De Lima refused to provide more details of the CHR’s stand on the issue, saying they will be releasing an official statement on the matter soon.

Media organizations and outfits on Monday launched a campaign against the passage of the bill, calling it an “act of terrorism against the media” and a violation of the Constitution.

The Senate passed its version of the measure, principally authored by Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., last year, while House Bill 3306 filed by Bacolod Representative Monico Puentevella is pending in the lower chamber.

Both bills seek to require that media publish or air the reply of a party offended by a news story in the same space and with the same prominence as the offending story and carry sanction, including hefty fines and, in the House version, jail time, for those who fail to comply.

For his part, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Jesus Verzosa said they respect the code of ethics practiced by the media.

“But also we must have to consider also the wisdom that is being forwarded by our legislators as to why they came up with that proposed bill for the right of reply, so we will wait for the outcome of the processing of the proposed bill of the right of reply,” he said.

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 17:06:00 02/26/2009

The right to edit

Posted in Censorship, Constitutional Rights, Legislation by Erineus on February 27, 2009

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. challenged his “friends in the media” to offer him a “reasoned argument” against his right of reply bill, which has passed third reading in the Senate. We are not sure if the burden of proof, so to speak, falls on the media; Pimentel’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., for example, gives us all the proof we need that, in the wrong hands, a right to reply law does pose a grave danger to our civil liberties.

Pimentel offers a much more solid argument for a right of reply law, as an expansion of the freedom of the press. As a lawyer, however, Pimentel knows that God (or the devil, depending on which quotation one prefers) is in the details.

And the details are revealing indeed. No distinction between news and opinion (thus killing, in one swoop, the entire tradition of fair comment). No consideration of the cost of reply (thus weighing down news organizations, very few of which actually turn a profit, with an onerous financial burden). And no regard for industry discipline (thus ignoring, sweepingly, decades of practice at self-regulation).

The core of the issue, however, is this: What we have in the right of reply bill (as formulated in Senate Bill 2150, for example) is the right to edit.

Readers scan a newspaper regularly, viewers tune in to a newscast daily, listeners turn to the radio news broadcast hourly, in part because they trust the editors and directors and producers — in short, the news managers — who do the job. The same pattern of trust can be discerned in the emerging media: The most popular websites and the most influential blogs have distinct personalities (in the case of blogs, quite literally).

To choose an example near to Pimentel’s heart: Let us say that in the not-too-distant future, a practiced attention-getter decides that the martial-law era did not in fact happen; that the arrests of Benigno Aquino and Jose Diokno and countless others (including, yes, Pimentel) did not in fact take place; that oppositionists were not in fact tortured and dissidents were not in fact killed. An impossible proposition? Not at all — as the cautionary growth of the Holocaust-denial industry, despite the universe of evidence, should warn us.

Under a right of reply regime, no good deed goes unpunished. Any criticism of a martial-law denier must be paid back in full, with the denier enjoying equal treatment. Even if a newspaper or a TV network or a radio station had already painstakingly shown, perhaps through a comprehensive special report, that martial law did in fact happen and many thousands were in fact left victimized, each news organization would be obliged, under penalty of law, to grant the denier space or airtime equal to the criticism, each time his patent nonsense is criticized.

Does anyone think this is an ideal state of affairs?

News managers — editors, news directors, executive producers — have the duty to judge what is newsworthy. That is part of the unwritten contract readers and viewers and listeners and users enter into. Under a right-of-reply regime, however, a news manager’s duty to spare her audience from the insanity of a martial-law denier is undermined. Indeed, in complying with the strictures of such a law, she will be compelled to propagate the very nonsense she ought to protect her audience from.

Is this an isolated, unlikely case? Not at all — as the shameless growth of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s double-speak factory, despite or perhaps because of its lack of credibility, should tell us.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita wants us to believe that President Arroyo did not snub the EDSA People Power I anniversary rites last Wednesday; she merely had a full schedule. We have the duty to report this statement, of course; on paper it does not look as insane as it sounds. But did no one in Malacañang realize that the anniversary always falls on February 25? It is our bounden duty to point out the inconsistency in Malacañang’s statement, the political savvy behind Malacañang’s use of holidays to mark anniversaries or holidays it welcomes — and thus the hypocrisy in Malacañang’s position on EDSA People Power.

Under a right of reply regime, the media’s constitutionally protected responsibility to sift information from misinformation falls victim to the most flattering form of insincerity: mere lip service.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:26:00 02/27/2009

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090227-191261/The-right-to-edit

Insidious censorship

Posted in Censorship, Constitutional Rights, Human Rights, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 27, 2009

No democratic country in the world has ever passed legislation that requires the media to provide equal space and time to the replies of citizens offended by news stories.

The members of Congress have taken the lead of reinventing Philippine democracy by initiating legislation that claims to expand freedom of the press while pretending to ensure fairness to citizens who are victims of some news reports or commentaries. Their initiative takes the form of Senate Bill 2150, and House Bill 3306. Both would require the media to publish or broadcast the reply of a party offended by a news story on the same space and with the same prominence as the offending report.

This provision is at the heart of the controversy over the right of reply bill. In practice, it is offensive to the freedom of the press and leads to its curtailment.

On closer examination, the bill amounts to a legislated censorship as pernicious as the muzzling of the press by totalitarian dictatorships. In effect, the bill constitutes prior restraint on the exercise of that freedom by editors in the selection of stories they publish or broadcast.

I am arguing from the operational effects of the bill on the media, not from the legal point of view of its constitutionality. In that context, strong arguments can be mounted against the legislation.

I am referring to the 1974 decision of US Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger who said the choice of material to go into a newspaper, the decision as to the size and content of the paper, and on the treatment of public issues and public officials — whether fair or unfair — constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment. Concurring with the majority opinion, Justice Byron Raymond White emphatically held that a newspaper or magazine is not a public utility subject to “reasonable” government regulation on matters affecting the exercise of editorial judgment as to what shall be printed. He said that prior compulsion by government in matters going to the very nerve center of a newspaper — the decision of what copy will or will not be included in a given edition — collides with the freedom of the press clause of the (US) constitution.

US jurisprudence on freedom of the press has been a model and inspiration of Philippine Supreme Court decisions on the issue. From the vantage of the purely operational consequences of the legislated right of reply, I can see the havoc it would wreak on the media industry. We are facing a possible nightmare of disruptions in media operations.

First, let us examine who can, under the bill, compel the media to publish their replies. These are parties “criticized by innuendo, suggestion, or rumor for any lapse in behavior in private or public life.” This provision unlocks the dikes to a flood of demands, converting the media into dumping grounds for all sorts of complaints arising from reports they have published or aired.

The bill appropriates, through legislative fiat, premium newspaper space to these demands for publication of replies on the same spot and same length as the offending story. This requirement is worse than Pravda’s during Stalin’s times. It restricts the media’s choice of stories to use. It prevents editors from touching space pre-allocated to replies. It encroaches on their editorial judgments and independence, which are essential to a free press. It ignores the quality of the stories and gives equal weight to stories regardless of whether they have substance or are full of nonsense. This puts in the same category idiotic and intelligent stories, a parity that does not ensure fairness to offended parties.

The front page of a newspaper is so designed that it reflects the view of the world, as evaluated by editors trained to assess important news. The notion of pre-allocated space, mandated by legislation, distorts social and political reality unfolded by dynamic events. It replaces this empirical reality with an artificial construct built on replies of offended citizens to negative stories.

It would be hard for editors to put out newspapers with these restrictions on choice and placement of stories. They don’t have all the space to accommodate such replies, which tend to create their own cycles of endless replies. One reply leads to another reply, a process which makes it hard to accept Sen. Aquilino Pimentel’s claim that his bill could expand freedom of the press. Freedom to publish of nonsense would be a better word for it.

The most obvious beneficiaries of the bill are the politicians, especially legislators, who can use the right of reply to settle scores with their political adversaries and critics and to protect and promote their own private interests. They are bound to become the foremost users of the right.

Among the members of the political class, legislators, with their privilege speeches, are ahead of other public officials in using newspaper and broadcast space. They need the right of reply more than businessmen, military men, bishops, civil society activists and bureaucrats. This is why Pimentel cannot claim his bill will expand press freedom.

Impressionistic evidence indicates that the privilege speech and parliamentary statements made under cover of legislative immunity are often the source of demands for the right of reply. Private citizens slandered and attacked by privilege speeches seldom seek redress in the media, because it does not help them. They have no use for the Pimentel bill. Reply in the media to privilege speeches can only invite swift retaliation from legislators shielded by parliamentary immunity.

Thus, the right of reply bill is another bludgeon legislators can use to reinforce their parliamentary immunity.

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:34:00 02/27/2009

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090227-191266/Insidious-censorship

Journalists urged to anchor their values on faith

Posted in Faith, Media by Erineus on February 24, 2009

AT a recent national congress of the Italian Catholic Press Union, the Holy Father noted the tremendous changes that have taken place in many things half a century after the group was founded. The changes have been “more visible in areas ranging from science to technology and from economy to geopolitics” but “less perceptible but deeper, and more worrying, in the field of modern culture, in which respect for the dignity of the individual seems to have notably diminished, along with a sense of such values as justice, freedom, and solidarity, which are so essential for the survival of society,” Pope Benedict XVI said. He urged Catholic journalists, in particular, to observe greater professionalism and to dialogue with the “lay” world in the search for shared values.

Journalists bear the responsibility of delivering news objectively and clearly to their listeners, readers, and viewers. They are capable of shaping public opinion, mobilizing people for a cause, and forging unity and solidarity. However, in order to maintain credibility and integrity in their profession, they must ensure that their own life is coherent and their values well-grounded and anchored on Christian teachings.

In the process of reporting news, unraveling truth, advocating justice, and safeguarding democratic processes, journalists also infuse moral standards, principles, and values in their varied audiences. For this reason, they are urged to anchor their own beliefs and values on faith.

Their tasks may prove to be demanding “in which spaces of freedom are often under threat” but for many journalists, the spirit of service and the criterion of the common good always takes precedence over other things, even to the extent of making personal sacrifices. Despite the staggering risks that they have to confront and obstacles to truth that they have to hurdle, it is consoling to know that many of our journalists do not compromise their principle for the common good and faithfully adhere to the dictum that “serenity of conscience is priceless.”

Opinion and Editorial
Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/OPED20090224148888.html

Dictating to the media

Posted in Congress, Human Rights, justice, Legislation, Media by Erineus on February 24, 2009

It appears that Congress is dead set on passing the right of reply bill. The Senate, voting 21 to 0, has passed the bill that will require media companies to provide equal space or air time to persons who are the subjects of their negative reports. Now, Speaker Prospero Nograles says the House of Representatives is “under pressure” to approve the measure.

The measure would give individuals who are “criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor of any lapse in behavior in private and public life the right to reply to charges or criticisms in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio, television and websites.”

At the outset, we must state we are in favor of everyone exercising their right of reply. It is part of the freedom of expression guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution. What we are against is a statutory right of reply.

We are against the right of reply bill because it would violate the right of journalists under the freedom of the press clause of the Constitution to edit or determine the contents of their publication. It would intrude into the function of editors. Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger of the US Supreme Court, in the 1974 case of Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, said the choice of material to go into a newspaper, the decisions made as to limitations on the size and content of the paper, and the treatment of public issues and public officials — whether fair or unfair — constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment.

Justice Byron Raymond White, concurring in the Burger majority opinion, said that a newspaper or magazine is not a public utility subject to “reasonable” government regulation in matters affecting the exercise of journalistic judgment as to what shall be printed. He said that prior compulsion by government in matters going to the very nerve center of a newspaper — the decision of what copy will or will not be included in a given edition — collides with the freedom of the press clause of the Constitution.

The right of reply bill would mandate that the replies be “published or broadcast in the same space of the newspapers, magazine, newsletter or publication, or aired over the same program on radio, television, website, or through any electronic device.” So, if the news story to which the reply is being made is the banner or No. 1 story in today’s issue, the reply should also be the banner story in tomorrow’s issue, although there may be bigger, fresher, more significant news that merits banner-story treatment.

A statutory right of reply would have a chilling effect on free speech. It would discourage newspapers, TV and radio stations from commenting on controversial issues when they know that they must provide free space and free air time for all replies.

A statutory right of reply in effect would impose a penalty on the basis of the contents of a newspaper. The first phase of the penalty resulting from the compelled printing of a reply is exerted in terms of the cost in printing and composing. It will take away space that could be devoted to other material that the newspaper may have preferred to print.

There are already measures and venues available to persons who want to exercise their right of reply: They can write letters for publication in the Letters to the Editor section. If a major factual inaccuracy is involved, the letter or article could be published on Page 1. They can write letter-complaints to the readers’ advocate, publisher, editor in chief or vice president for news and current affairs of the newspaper or radio or TV station concerned. They can address their complaint to the Philippine Press Council. Or they can file libel suits.

Burger said that a statutory right of reply imposes the virtue of responsibility on the media. He said, “…Press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated.”

Most of the major newspapers, radio and TV stations have manuals of editorial policies that include provisions on the right of reply and on accuracy, objectivity and fairness. We urge the authors of the right of reply bill to withdraw it. Responsibility cannot be legislated. Government officials, politicians and the people in general will just have to trust in the responsibility, ethical uprightness and sense of fairness of publishers, editors and reporters in doing their work and exercising journalistic judgment and discretion.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090223-190647/Dictating-to-the-media