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Media groups to challenge bill in court

By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:05:00 10/02/2008

Filed Under: Media, Laws, Legislation, Congress, Legal issues

MANILA, Philippines?The "right to reply" bill will be challenged in court by media groups if it is passed by Congress and is signed into law.

Vergel Santos, board chair of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), said the measure violated the freedom of the press and of free expression.

"It cannot pass on these grounds. We will take it to court and we will win. It's unconstitutional," he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

According to Santos, no country has ever passed a law on the right to reply because it covers the freedom of expression, "and that is a basic freedom."

CMFR deputy director Luis Teodoro also said the right of reply measure "should be challenged."

"If it is passed, then it is time to talk to our lawyers," he said.

Joe Torres, president of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, said the bill constituted "prior restraint" on members of the media.

"[It] would dictate to journalists and editors what story to publish. It would not respect press freedom. The idea behind it is weird," he said.

Torres said it should be up to newspapers and broadcast outfits to "weigh the news value of the response."

Besides, he said, it was part of the job of journalists "to get the other side in the name of fairness, accuracy and balance."

"Mostly, that is already inherent in any journalist," he said.

If there are any complaints, offended parties have many recourses, including lodging a complaint with press councils, the news organization's ombudsman or other officers, and going to court to file a libel case, Torres said.

Santos described the proposed law as "wrong" and "stupid."

"I think we can decide for ourselves in cases like this in the practice of our profession," he said, adding that a news organization had every right to withhold a reply by any party who felt offended by any report.

"It may be unfair, but it is up to the editors and the organization to decide whether or not to publish the reply. It doesn't justify a law telling an editor to publish or air a reply," he said.

Echoing Torres, Santos said offended parties had many recourses like going to another newspaper, calling a press conference, or issuing a press statement.

As for lawmakers, "they can seize the floor to air their side," he said.

For Teodoro, a professor of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, there are practical difficulties in implementing the proposed law.

If it stipulates that a reply should be published within 24 hours, "what if the publication is a weekly?" he said, pointing out that in certain communities, "there are many weekly publications."

Teodoro said the proposed law might result in "newspapers filled up with just stories on the replies."

But he also recognized that some media organizations did not adhere to the practice of printing a news subject's reply.

"The media should be practicing the right to reply voluntarily. For the errors of some media organizations, the whole media will have to bear the consequences," Teodoro said.

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