One hot topic in the Philippine media industry these days is a pending bill (with versions lodged both at the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives) for the “right of reply.” In essence, the bill stipulates that should any party feel aggrieved by any material published or broadcast by a publication or broadcast entity, that party should be allotted space or time to publish his own reply on the same space or the same amount of time within a specified period at no cost.
The Senate version, for one also stipulates penalties including fines and even imprisonment if a publicaton or broadcast company fails to comply.
Is there any sense to having such a law at all?
As with any issue, there are pros and cons to this. Media groups claim that if such a law were to be passed, it would be unconstitutional as it would be abridging on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Journalists, they say, do their part in trying to get both sides of any story, but it is ultimately the prerogative of editors, publishers or producers what to publish or air. Moreover, Philippine libel laws already provide for stiff penalties for libel (when proven in court).
Also, publishers worry about the cost and logistics involved. What if, for example, a news article published offends a group consisting of a thousand members, and those thousand people complain? That would require thousands of pages of print material. And what if a publication goes out monthly or weekly? One version of the bill stipulates that a response be published within 24 hours. It simply cannot be practical.
The bottomline, for publishers and media practitioners, is that the legislators involved want to impose their editorial judgment on the media industry.
On the other hand, proponents of the proposed law claim that it is intended to ensure fairness in what the media publishes. This is perhaps in light of Philippine media being often critical of the government, or various parties that are involved in governance.
This is perhaps particularly important in a culture where “trial by publicity” is often the norm. People can be quick to judge based on what they watch on TV, read in the newspapers (whether the news or opinion pages) and even on blogs or emails. And we cannot forego the fact that publishers do have their own interests, and could possibly be using their media outfits for such.
What about blogging?
Both versions of the law include “any electronic device” as part of media outfits covered. So if passed, blogs will definitely be covered, being an electronic medium. One question here, of course, is jurisdiction–which bloggers are covered by the law? Does this only include bloggers residing in the country, or citizens thereof? How about if the blogs are hosted on foreign soil?
And of course another concern is whether a blog is inherently immune to these legal issues, because by default, blogs allow any party to contribute to the discussion through the comment areas. Or should bloggers publish the response on the very same space where the original article had been written. If so, where should this be? Below the original article? Above?
Some things are certain here. Firstly, when a damaging statement is published, whether that is true or not, then the burden of proving it or disproving it would be on the part of either party. But then the damage would already have been done. So the bigger issue is the responsibility of publishers–in our case bloggers and new media practitioners–to check facts, and to make sure we are fair in what we write in the first place. If you post something, then you better be prepared to defend it, or at the very least you should know what you are talking about.