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Defend freedom of the press

/ 02:31 AM March 24, 2016

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) claimed the “right of reply” in reaction to the Inquirer report on the reported transfer of P100 million, allegedly belonging to Vice President Jejomar Binay, to Hong Kong through Philrem, a remittance company involved in the $81-million money laundering scandal (“Binay sent P100M to HK via Philrem,” Front Page, 3/17/16). The claim would be laughable if not for the dire consequences it poses to freedom of the press and expression.

It is doubly ironic that the claim should be filed in the Commission on Elections by UNA’s JV Bautista, former chair of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, one of the foremost advocates of press freedom, and who once prided himself as a human rights lawyer.

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What makes the right of reply particularly obnoxious is its stated aim of forcing media outlets to print or air an offended party’s reply “with the same prominence or in the same page or section or in the same time slot as the first statement.”

While we agree that aggrieved parties may demand that a media outfit carry their side of a story, they have absolutely no right to demand what amounts to a confiscation of print space or airtime. We can only shudder at the prospect of our famously petty and onion-skinned public officials gleefully taking over media after every perceived slight.

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Yes, media outfits, just as any person, are biased one way or the other and in varying degrees. What ethics demand from media is to be objective and fair, to air both sides of a story, ideally together and, should this not be feasible, to give the other side the chance to reply as soon as possible.

Note that the Inquirer did run UNA’s denial of the report (“UNA belies reports on Philrem, law firm,” Front Page, 3/17/16)—which was based on a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council—on the same page where the story on the alleged money transfer appeared.

But even on the chance that a particular media outfit is so biased as to totally ignore one side of a controversy, there are other remedies to this such as seeking out other outfits not only to air one’s arguments but also to take the errant outfit to task. Or even go to court, which, lest UNA forget, Binay has actually done with his pending P200-million civil suit against the Inquirer, AMLC officials and others on the same grounds he now asks the Comelec to grant him the right of reply.

To be fair, it is not only UNA that has sought to impose this “right” on media. Allies of this administration and the one before it—many of whom are the same opportunists who have been jumping from one party-in-power to the next —have, so far unsuccessfully, pushed for either a right-of-reply law or the inclusion of a right-of-reply provision in the freedom of information bill. These same politicians will, most likely, not stop working to realize their wildest dreams of taking over media through a right-of-reply law in the next administration.

Which is why, even as we call on media and fellow journalists not only to work for the highest professional and ethical standards but also to strive for greater unity to defend freedom of the press and of expression against all attempts to diminish it, such as through a right-of-reply legislation.

—RYAN D. ROSAURO, chair, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, [email protected]

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TAGS: AMLC, Elections 2016, Jejomar Binay, JV Bautista, money laundering, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philrem, United Nationalist Alliance
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