Statement: Keep the media free in these crucial times

March 21, 2016

Keep the media free in these crucial times

The United Nationalist Alliance’s claim for the “right to reply” to the Philippine Daily Inquirer report on Vice President Jejomar Binay’s alleged transfer of P100 million to Hong Kong through a remittance company involved in the $81-million money laundering scandal would be laughable if not for the potentially dire consequences to freedom of the press and of expression it poses.

It is doubly ironic that the claim before the Commission on Elections should be filed by UNA secretary general JV Bautista who used to be chairman of one of the foremost advocates of press freedom, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, and once prided himself as a human rights lawyer.

This is precisely why the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has demanded the repeal of Section 10 of the Fair Election Act and that Comelec to scrap Section 16 of its Resolution No. 10049, and why we have and will continue to oppose any attempt to legislate this onerous concept.

What makes the right to reply particularly obnoxious is its stated aim of forcing media outlets to print or air offended parties’ replies “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 the confiscation of page space or airtime. We can only shudder at the prospect of our famously petty and onion-skinned public officials gleefully taking over media over every perceived slight.

This is an opportune moment to disabuse not just our politicians but the general public of the myth of media neutrality. Yes, media, just as anyone else, are biased one way or the other and in varying degrees. What ethics call on media to be is objective and fair, to air both sides of a story, ideally together but, if not feasible, to give the other side the chance to reply as soon as possible.

On this score, we note that the Inquirer did run UNA’s denial of its report, which was based on a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, on the same page on which 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 for that matter, something that, lest UNA forget, Binay has actually done with his pending P200-million civil suit against the Inquirer, AMLC officials and other parties on the same grounds he now asks the Comelec to grant him the right to reply.

To be fair, however, it is not only UNA that has sought to impose the right to reply on media. Allies of this administration and the one before it – many of whom, to be honest, are the same opportunists who have simply jumped from one end of the power spectrum to the other – have, so far unsuccessfully, pushed for either a right to reply law or the inclusion of such a provision in the freedom of information bill that remains dead in the water, no thanks to a president with a solid reputation for broken promises and hostility toward media.

It is likely that these same politicians will not stop working to make their wildest dreams of taking over media through right of reply legislation when the next administration kicks in.

Which is why, even as we call on the media and fellow journalists to work for the highest professional and ethical standards in the course of our work of serving the people’s right to know, let us also strive for greater unity to defend freedom of the press and of expression against all attempts to diminish it, such as through right to reply legislation.


NUJP Chair