There are many arguments against the proposed Right of Reply bill, Senate Bill 2150, all finely articulated, high-minded and most, perfectly valid. Read today’s Inquirer editorial and Amado Doronila’s column for recent and lucid examples.
Opposition against it is snowballing, and senators who previously endorsed the measure, like Chiz Escudero, the Chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and one of the bill’s authors, are flip-flopping. President Arroyo, never one to miss an opportunity to butter up to the media, is saying she is ready to veto the bill.
Everyone seems to be taking the side of traditional media which, predictably, has draped itself in the Constitution. Just to play devil’s advocate, being of a diabolical bent, allow me to argue for the adoption of the a law which allows the Right of Reply.
The first consideration is the fundmental idea of fairness, which in this context simply means that all sides to the issue shoud be properly presented. What can be objectionable to institutionalizing fairness ? What the bill intends to do is to level the playing field, in FVR’s favorite phrase. If the media can dish it out, it shoud be able to take it. And provide equal access to the platform to do so for those aggrieved.
This is not a totally unknown concept. The U.S. Federal Communication Commission previously introduced a “Fairness Doctine” which required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. Although eventually abandoned in the face of strident opposition from big media interests, the debate on its desirability goes on. Many parties continue to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or Congressional legislation. It may be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (by a vote of 8-0) the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in a case of an on-air personal attack, in response to challenges that the doctrine violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press).
Senate Bill 2150 is merely a more expansive variation of the Fairness Doctrine, defining the Right to Reply thus:
All persons natural or juridical who are accused directly of indirectly of committing or having committed or of intending to commit any crime or offense defined by law or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to the charges published or printed in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free, or to criticism aired or broadcast over radio, television, websites or through any electronic evidence.
Hence, the proposed Right of Reply would also cover print media and online publication. Although, in the case of blogs, a simple mechanism has already ensured the Right of Reply in the form of comments to blog posts.
Other related points will be discussed in future posts.