CMC Students’ Draft Statement on the Right to Reply Bill

The election campaign season is fast approaching. The media are again expected to play the important role of helping the people make sound decisions. It is a crucial role that can make or break the country’s future; a daunting task to ensure that their democratic exercise to vote will not be put to waste. Yet, the Right of Reply Bill might just impede the media practitioners to fully perform this role, especially if it gets passed before or just in time for the election campaign. To echo the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s concern, the Philippine media would have a hard time dealing with accommodating replies of allegedly maligned politicians over more important news and information which could have helped the people to, quoting Bill Kovach, be “free and self-governing.”

Media can never be platforms crowded with replies of politicians. This will be a grave disservice to the people to which the media should empower.

But more than the issues that go with the 2010 elections, we condemn the bill as a breach of the constitutional safeguards toward a free environment for the press. We were being taught of the concept of editorial prerogative, a prerogative that emanates from the guarantee of a free press as mandated by the Art. III, Sec. 4 of the 1987 Constitution. The absence of state intervention in the affairs of the media makes it possible for the media to perform its check-and-balance functions. This recent move to partly impose content on all media, no matter how partly it covers print or web space or air time, is unconstitutional.

We uphold this right as further supported by the landmark case Miami Herald Publishing Co. vs. Tornillo. The decision read: “A newspaper (or any media entity) is more than a passive receptacle and conduit (of information)….The choice of material and limitations on size and of content constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment.” This encapsulates the overarching wisdom behind the free press clause, and must be scrapped altogether.

If this imposition will be passed, it will only create a more difficult environment for the media, which is already struggling in recent years. For instance, the campus press, as part of alternative media, will suffer most the brunt of this repressive measure. The bill imposed fines of up to P200,000. With lack of resources to come up with an issue, and the lack of administrative support experienced by some campus and college-wide publications, how would they pay the fine? Will they just fall on a tendency to be too careful to point of falling short to its duty to expose the ills of the society and the suspects behind these?

Add to that a culture of impunity, and as broadcast journalist Maria Ressa constantly points out, a “chilling effect” created for the media. Our recent ranking, sixth at the 2009 Global Impunity Index, is a shame to this government which failed to implement significant measures to provide justice to the 96-and -counting cases of journalist killings.

Strengthening the manifestation of this kind of environment are the turn of events in recent years: Mr. Mike Arroyo’s case-filing spree against 50 journalists, the handcuffing of journalists covering the infamous Manila Peninsula Siege, the filing of wiretapping case against veteran broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro, and of late, the assault to a campus journalist while covering the break-in of several students in Malacañang, and the directive from the Office of the Ombudsman tightening the process of asking the Statements of Assets and Liabilities of government officials.

Indeed, for the Philippine media, these are times made more difficult by the state’s blatant attempts to muzzle press freedom. As future media practitioners, the ones who will inherit this bill when it gets passed, it is high time to rise within our ranks go out of our way to help media practitioners in their call to scrap such unconstitutional, imposing and harmful bill.


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