COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
This right of reply bill reminds me of a little incident over a decade ago when Col. Dionisio Santiago who was at that time the Commanding Officer of the 803rd Infantry Brigade invited me to write my impressions of the military, a criticism in particular, in their newsletter The 803rd Gazette. And that he’ll write a response to my article and print it in the same issue of their paper.
Of course I did not write anything as he suggested for even as he spoke of that kind of arrangement, I felt being curtailed of my freedom of expression. I felt being trapped, and that any criticism I may write about the military will simply be written-off, or somewhat whitewashed, with his reply printed on the same space. It would be a different story if the reply will be published in a separate issue.
That incident somewhat gave me a spill-over atmosphere of the Marcos years when there was a “loyal opposition” that was tolerated to exist to give a semblance of a democratic space in that period. But that kind of opposition was useless and ineffective, for it did not carry the real sentiments of the people needing government the most, nor advocate for real change to take place.
The issue that I’m trying to address here is freedom of the press which is the vanguard of a democratic society, and that the newspapers and other media outfits must be independent and must exercise the right to choose what stories to publish or broadcast. Otherwise, we shall be going back to a totalitarian and oppressive regime where the only information that can be heard and read are those that the administration permits, and anything on the contrary will be silenced in any form.
In the early stage of a working democracy like what we have at present, where the executive, legislative, and judicial departments are still under the heavy influence of an incumbent leader, the media is the last source of power that can check any irregularities and excesses in governance, and the defender of the people in their fight for equality and freedom.
Senate Bill 2150 and House Bill 3306 however strip media’s independence and freedom, in which both bills “require the media to publish or broadcast the reply of a party offended by a news story on the same space and with the same prominence as the offending report.” Media is compelled to publish replies of those “criticized by innuendo, suggestion, or rumor for any lapse in behavior in private or public life.”
From the look of it, the right of reply bill serves only those who are in power and wants to hold on to that power. And, it also turns the media, newspapers in particular, into a blog or worse a rumor mill. And a comedy of sorts; for when a story reports of unexplained wealth by a certain politician, he’ll be allowed equal space to deny the allegations even if evidence has proved rightly so. Anyone then can deny anything, get equal space as the offending story, and truth will be blurred in the long run.
We don’t need the right of reply bill even if those hardly hit by the media reply by killing media practitioners. It only promotes intransigence among persons in question, especially public officials who do not want to be checked of wrongdoing. It only promotes glib talk and further muddles an issue. And it violates the essence of a free and independent press, and thwarts the role of the media in preserving democracy.
Editing is a serious work that requires sound judgment and independence, and the right of reply bill will only make a mockery of that editorial judgment and prerogative as media tries to present social and political realities to the public. And in a fledging democracy like ours where those in power are in collusion with each other, subverting the media will be like keeping the ruled majority in an unending state of oppression.