Solon wants right of reply provision in FOI bill
MANILA, Philippines—A legislator wants to include a right of reply provision in the freedom of information bill, saying this was better than having a separate law for it, as this would limit the instances where officials could demand media space to air their side.
Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, who has his own version of the FOI bill, said this provision would ensure that officials would be allowed to respond to reports that would come out based on information obtained through the FOI bill.
Antonino’s version of the FOI bill includes a right of reply provision that states that any person involved in an issue relating to the obtained documents must be given the chance to explain or account for the issue in the media.
He said the information covered by the FOI pertains mostly to the official duties of public officers, so they should also be able to respond.
“The right to reply in my bill is limited only to information that comes out of the FOI. As far as the media is concerned, the only issue is whether there would be balanced reporting on that information,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.
If the reports about data gathered through the FOI already contain both sides, then the right of reply provision need not apply, he said.
He added that for politicians and public officials, their reputation and good name is very important.
Antonino also said he did not agree with having a separate right to reply bill, as this would cover a broader range of issues and would impose too much on the media
“It’s too all encompassing,” he said.
He said media outfits should welcome the right of reply provision as it would “bring responsible journalism within the scope of the FOI bill.”
The right of reply is one of the issues that the House public information committee is expected to tackle today when it finally resumes discussions on the FOI bill after several postponements. The committee members are also expected to vote on the approval of the bill for plenary debates.
But supporters of the FOI bill are apprehensive about the right of reply provision because it could undermine media’s editorial independence. They prefer that it be tackled as a separate bill so the FOI measure would not be delayed.
The FOI bill seeks to remove the veil of secrecy that usually covers government data and transactions, and make these more accessible to the public. This is intended to combat corruption and foster good governance and transparency.
But the bill also provides exceptions, and bans easy access to sensitive information and puts in place safeguards to prevent misuse of data.
Malacanang has also come out with its own proposed amendments to the FOI bill, including additional exceptions.
The hearing today on the FOI bill is crucial as it would determine whether it could be immediately sent to the plenary for second reading and debates, and then finally voted on third and final reading before the year ends.
Proponents of the FOI bill want the measure to be approved on final reading by December in the House and the Senate so it could be passed into law before the 15th Congress ends.
Congress will adjourn early next year when the campaign period for the 2013 midterm elections starts.
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