Press Release
February 28, 2009

Chiz: Right-of-reply bill on wrong side of history

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero said on Saturday that any attempt to curtail press freedom has always been opposed, not only by media but also the people, and history has shown that it will ultimately fail.

"This is not the first attempt to pass a right-of-reply bill in the Senate," said Escudero, who has taken the lead to oppose the measure sponsored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel.

In a statement, he disclosed that a similar bill, Senate Bill No. 903, was sponsored in the pre-martial law upper chamber by Senators Ambrosio Padilla, Mamintal Tamano, and Rene Espina.

He said that the National Press Club at that time, then led by Eddie Monteclaro, pointed out that "the right to reply is better realized through editorial discretion and voluntary acts rather than through forcible dictation through state machinery which infringes upon a basic freedom."

According to Escudero, the NPC position paper presented during a Senate hearing in May 1972, also said:

"The proper remedy for public officials or private persons who may be aggrieved by any publication or radio-tv broadcast is to file criminal charges for libel or slander, should they feel that such publication or broadcast commentary had violated their right to a good name or reputation.

"The remedy does not lie in dictation or the curtailment of editorial discretion in the evaluation of news items or articles, or in requiring broadcast commentators to say something they may not want to say, which are essential elements of free speech and press."

The issues raised in the Padilla bill are basically the same issues replicated in the Pimentel measure, he said, adding it did not prosper and languished at the committee level, and was eventually overtaken by the imposition of martial law.

"Public servants, as they say, live in glass houses, and they must steel themselves from criticism while in public service," said Escudero.

"When one is on the side of truth, one does not need to fear media," he said.

In holding dialogues with media groups, Escudero said what he wanted was a full ventilation of the issues which the proposed measure seeks to address - such as irresponsible and malicious reportage or commentary and the presence of scalawags in media.

The current public debate on the Pimentel bill, the opposition senator said, has given the media the opportunity to review and put in place mechanisms that will respond to these concerns.

"If it becomes law, the right-of-reply could become a tool for the unscrupulous and the corrupt, who have the means, to handcuff the media. It also puts an additional burden on media which is already saddled with a libel law that treats journalists as criminals," Escudero said.

"We cannot legislate responsibility. The issues have been joined. It is time for closure. It did not pass the first time, it will not pass this time," he declared.

"I have crossed the line; I stand on the side of press freedom," he added.

News Latest News Feed