Author of ” Right to Reply” senate bill clarifies purpose

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (Apr. 25) – Parties who invoke the “Right to Reply,” can no longer sue for libel, according to Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr.

At the same time, the “Right to Reply” cannot be invoked during election period.

In an email Friday (April 24, 2009) to this reporter, Pimentel said under Philippine Senate Bill No. 1178, “An Act Granting The Right of Reply and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof,” “once the right of reply is accorded to the person criticized by media, the latter will no longer have the right to sue for libel (on the assumption that the libel is not yet decriminalized before the right to reply bill gets approved.”

The senior senator from Mindanao who introduced the “Right to Reply” bill disclosed that he is also “an advocate to decriminalizing libel.”

He said, “the idea that the reply should occupy the same space and the same length as the criticism might be unrealistic. Thus, we will settle down for what is feasible. Probably, on the same page and a reasonable space to cover the reply, which should not necessarily be as long as the criticism being replied to.”

Pimentel also clarified that the “Right to Reply” bill may not also be invoked during election period.
He explained that this provision is already covered by “the mandates of the right to reply during elections, which apparently the media overlooks. That’s in the Fair Election Act passed years back.”

Pimentel issued the statements on the bill, following the Kapehan (Coffee talk) meeting sponsored by the National Press Club of the Philippines in the United States of America (NPC-Phil. U.S.A.) held last Saturday (April 18) at Fil-Am Delight restaurant at Chicago’s northside.

In his comments, Pimentel said, “Imprisonment as a penalty is being excised. Other safeguards are being introduced” in the Right to Reply bill.

“There is no iota of the freedom of the press being diminished.”

Senator Pimentel was reacting to the “JGL Eye” column of this reporter, “Chilling Right to Reply,” syndicated in several outlets in the U.S., Philippines, Canada and Australia.

Pimentel said, “The press can continue attacking people. But what the bill basically says is that if mass media has the right to mortify, the people have the right to reply.”

Pimentel said, “In a democracy, there is no such thing as an absolute right. Despite the disagreement, I respect your right to criticize the bill as you see fit.”

The other topic discussed at Kapehan was Chip Tsao’s column in a Hongkong Magazine that used the employment of highly educated Filipina domestic helpers as leverage to get the Filipino Overseas Workers to agree to the policies of the Chinese government in encroaching over the Spratly Islands that are part of the Philippine territory.

Mariano “Anong” Santos, publisher-editor of PINOY Monthly, clarified that he did not say that “’Philippine-based journalists are quiet’ about the Hongkong  columnist’s commentary.  In fact, they are very vocal about it–including those that write for the Philippine Daily Inquirer from which PINOY gets most of its items.”

Also discussed were the “circulation war between Asian Journal and Balita Media,” both twice-weekly publications both based in Los Angeles, California; and the “too many” killings in Davao by Davao’s Death Squad.

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