Press Release
February 27, 2009


Several senators have declared that Congress should go ahead with the passage of the bill granting the right to reply despite the strong objections from media practitioners who feel it will unduly interfere on their editorial judgment on what to print or broadcast.

They assured that the proposal does not in anyway impair press freedom or dictate to media what to say but recognizes the right of any person to present his side in response to a report or commentary that is inaccurate, unfair and defamatory to him.

Senators Gregorio Honasan, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson and Juan Miguel Zubiri called on critics to acknowledge the inherent merits of the bill that seeks to uphold the freedom of expression both of media practitioners and their readers-listeners and enhance responsible journalism.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan offered to be a co-author of the right to reply bill even if it had already been approved by the Senate last year.

"We would like to identify ourselves with the intent of the bill," he said. Honasan said the bill is necessary to curb the tendency of irresponsible journalists to engage in "trial by publicity" that that may inflict irreparable harm on the reputation of innocent individuals.

He said it is a fact that some members of the media have allowed themselves to be used by unscrupulous law enforcement and military authorities in mounting disinformation or demolition campaign against certain individuals by leaking unverified intelligence data.

"In some extreme cases, this particular aspect of media irresponsibility spells the difference between freedom and incarceration, preserving a good name and the destruction of that name," Honasan said.

"The rule seems to be 'You shoot first, and then continue shooting. Do not allow the target of your irresponsibility to reply in his chosen forum.'"

Sen. Arroyo said the bill does not diminish whatsoever the rights that are already granted to the media.

"What this bill provides is a methodology whereby an aggrieved party may have immediate redress if the media should in any manner offend him," said.

Arroyo said he believes that the people "will gain more out of the right of reply bill" and the media practitioners should not be scared of its enactment into law.

He urged the House of Representatives to act fast on the bill "because it is a very innovative, a very original and very novel bill."

"Perhaps, it would enrich the concept of just what free press is all about, that it carries certain responsibilities and the public also have inherent rights which can be exercised," the veteran parliamentarian and human rights lawyer said.

Angara reiterated his support for the right to reply bill. But he observed that the resistance displayed members of the media towards this proposal stemmed from their fear that it will undermine their editorial freedom to decide what should see print in their newspapers or be broadcast in their news programs over radio and television.

"Some people suggest that it may also be protecting the newspaper's space and broadcast time that is so valuable for them because if one is mandated and required by law to publish every single reply, then to that extent, we are reducing the print space or broadcast time for them," he said.

Minority Leader, Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., principal author of the bill, emphasized that the right to valuable space being controlled solely by the media has to be balanced by a corresponding right of the people to be heard in their own defense.

On the apprehension of print media practitioners that publishing the reply would eat up, say the whole page or a substantial portion of it, he said there should be a way of substantially conforming to the requirement of the right to reply bill.

If the offending criticism was done on the front page of a newspaper, Pimentel said the newspaper may have what is called in journalism parlance as "ear," "ticker" or "teaser" prominently carried on the front page that calls attention to the publication of the reply on the same page or in some other pages.

"Reason will have to prevail so that somehow, we modify even this right to reply to the extent that we need not unnecessarily impose stringent requirements on the newspaper business just to satisfy the right to reply," Pimentel said.

"What is important is that reason is used as a gauge to determine how much amount of space of the newspaper concerned when they hit a particular person should be devoted to the reply of that person."

Majority Leader Zubiri, for his part, said: "I would like to manifest my full support for the measure. I have also been the subject of this type of stories wherein my right to reply has also been violated. Even letters to the editor takes months to be actually published."

Pimentel stressed that there is no abridgement of the freedom of expression and there is no prior censorship that is being imposed by the right of reply bill.

"We are not trying to tell the media what to say in the first place. But if you say something that is critical of a person, that person should have the right to tell you that what you said is wrong," Pimentel said.

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