1. The Right of Reply Bill is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that violates two of the most cherished freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, those of the press and of expression.
2. It is both unfortunate and ironic that the principal authors of the bill in the two chambers of Congress ought to have known better, Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. having earned his reputation as a champion of civil rights and Bacolod Representative Monico Puentevella having been president of the Negros Press Club.
3. It is also clear, from the pronouncements of both lawmakers, that this bill is a product of the sorriest excuse for legislation – personal pique.
4. The House version of the bill, HB 3306, parrots the Senate’s SB2150 except it would have the reply run a day after receipt instead of the three days the Senate grants, and seeks to impose heftier fines and the absence of self-regulation (in the case of block-timers) and sunset clauses.
5. Both bills state that “all persons…who are accused directly or indirectly of committing, having committed or intending to commit any crime or offense defined by law, or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to charges or criticisms published or printed in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free, or aired or broadcast over radio, television, websites, or through any electronic devices.”
6. They also would mandate that these 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.”
7. The danger in the right of reply bill is that it would legislate what the media OUGHT to publish or air, while casting a chilling effect that could dissuade the more timorous from publishing or airing what they SHOULD.
8. The bills would free public officials, especially the corrupt – and they are legion – of accountability and give them carte blanche to force their lies on the suffering public.
9. As one article on the right of reply bill says, “It lumps together imputations of a crime with simple criticism ‘of any lapse in behavior in public or private life’ or what would otherwise be considered ‘fair comment.’ There is no judicial review. It does not differentiate direct and indirect criticism. It has been noted that under the proposed law a journalist does not even have to be in error to draw a right of reply claim.”
10. We would be the last to say that the Philippine media are without fault. Yes, we understand perfectly the frustration and anger of Pimentel and Puentevella over some media outlet’s refusal to air their sides on issues.
11. Alas, but we cannot allow the sins of the few to be an excuse for the wholesale muzzling of a free press and the suppression of free expression. To do so would allow bad governance to triumph.
12. We call on Senator Pimentel and Representative Puentevella to withdraw their bills.
13. We urge the media and the people to close ranks against the passage of this bill, to challenge it before the Supreme Court if it is passed, and, if even that fails, to defy it by refusing to comply.
14. No less than our freedoms are at stake. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Signed by: 197 journalists (as of Feb 27, 2009, 3:45pm)