Journalists unite vs. Right of Reply Bill

MANILA (Feb. 24) – In a press conference organized by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) today, the Right of Reply Bill (RORB) was denounced as an “act of terrorism against the media”. NUJP encouraged the media and the Filipino people to resist the threat to democracy and constitutionally-enshrined rights posed by the proposed legislation.

Underscoring the urgency of collective action against the RORB, news executives, publishers, editors, and producers from major broadcast, online and print media, and journalists’ organizations aired their respective positions on the RORB.

The RORB, passed by the Senate last year and due to be passed anytime by the House of Representatives, requires media outfits to air the replies of subjects of news articles of broadcasts. It imposes hefty fines, imprisonment, and closure of media outfits for those who fail to comply.

Atty. Neri Colmenares, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, explained that the RORB is “inherently defective,” as it violates Art. 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.

Businessworld Editor Vergel O Santos said the bill “is a terrorist assault on press freedom.”

Jessica Soho, of the GMA News and Public Affairs, agreed and said that she cannot personally and professionally understand why congress has to legislate the media’s obligation when it is basic in news writing and it is what we are practicing now- to ensure fair and balanced reporting.

In a statement read by GMA 7 Eyewitness Host, Howie Severino, declared that “A fear of right-to-reply claims would create a chilling effect among editors and news managers at a time when media must be at its most fearless, enterprising, and thorough.”

ABS-CBN Head for News Gathering, Charie Villa, said that the ABS-CBN will conduct discussions of RORB in their programs to drum up public interest on the issue. The ABS-CBN, Villa said, will oppose the bill.

Ed Lingao of ABC TV-5, said in a statement that the RORB is “tantamount to legislating editorial content and treatment.” It pointed out that right of reply legislation in European countries only mandates the publication of replies for news items that contain error of fact, as opposed to the wider scope of the RORB.

Journalists also expressed fear that with the upcoming 2010 elections, the passage of the RORB will mean the deluge of replies that would constitute free publicity for politicians running for office.

“The cost of compliance would be a flood of so-called ‘replies’ among which one can expect more than a fair amount of efforts at free and biased publicity, and at the cost of reporting on other issues of public interest,” said the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in a statement read by Luis V. Teodoro, its Deputy Executive Director.

The CMFR also pointed out that right of reply bills have been struck down as unconstitutional in the United States of America.

Jose Pavia, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute, meanwhile said that persons who feel aggrieved by the media have at their disposal other legal remedies such as the libel law and administrative complaints coursed through the Philippine Press Councils.Nonoy Espina, vice-chairperson of NUJP, ended by saying that the RORB is “not only an attack on the right of journalists alone, but on the right of the Filipino people to the free flow of information.”

The NUJP also launched a “Unified Statement on the Right of Reply Bill,” which has already attracted the signatures of more than 100 journalists. All journalists present at the press conference vowed to undertake lobbying efforts and public education campaigns to convince the proponents of the bill, led by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Negros Rep. Monico Fuentebella, to withdraw sponsorship of the bill and to pressure other legislators to block its passage.

Others who attended the unity press conference are Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot, representatives from ABS-CBN Global, DWad, Inquirer. com and gmanews.tv.

In previous consultations, the KBP also registered its opposition to the bill, along with representatives from Business Mirror, RPN 9.

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