Upholding the Right of Reply

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.

4 thoughts on “Upholding the Right of Reply”

  1. “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. – francis bacon”

    imho, the best “regulation” is a person’s ability to weigh and consider, to discern. I find people seem to do less and less of that (myself included). people should have the opportunity to read or see or listen and think for themselves, that’s full of crap or hey, that’s great. imho it isn’t government’s duty to impose what content should be, even if it means “fair play” or absence thereof.

  2. a caveat, good sir: the right to reply in the blogosphere (beyond comment boxes) stems from the fact that anyone able to read a blog has the same power to create a blog in reply and in opposition (if such opposition is the case).

    in contrast with the blogosphere, it is the cost of production where i think MSM’s opposition lies, in that there would be financial reverses due to having to provide the right-to-reply airtime or column inches.

    that said, i think your argument above can be persuasive. why not institutionalize fairness? why not, indeed?

    (of course, we have to consider the Law of Unintended Consequences. ๐Ÿ˜€ )

  3. The intent is “noble” but I think the bigger problem here is not about fairness but the slant and lies in liepapers errr newspaper due to the practitioners of ATM Journalism. This bill is more of a boon to scalawags now that they have the “right” or even a license to come up with prepared statement that is not necessarily factual since criminals are not dumb to incriminate themselves in writing or broadcast media. Will it hurt ATM Journalism practitioners or will it become a more profitable business? I say it will be more lucrative as they will be in demand from scalawags who now has been given a license to bombard hapless liepaper readers and those who listen and watch radio and television broadcast more lies and half-truths.

  4. @ Cocoy, agree. Discernment is the key.

    @ Jester, you are correct if you say that everyone is free to create a blog. But I think not everyone able to read a blog has the wherewithal, it terms of knowledge, ability, time, resources etc. to make a blog off the bat in response to criticism, deserved or not. Comments provide an avenue for immediate response.

    No doubt, it will be a big financial burden on the part of media if the right of reply is mandated. It will not only cut into their profits, it may even drive the smaller players out of business. As you pointed out, the law of unintended consequences will come into play, with all its unforeseen and devilish outcomes.

    @ Pedestrian Observer, it will very likely be a very profitable opportunity for all the hired guns ready to sell their talents to the highest bidder. But there will always be those who will fight for the truth.

    That said, I personally think the right of reply is a terrible idea and will only play into the hands of politcos and other scalawags, as PO GB puts it. Just that I perceive a hint of smug self-righteousness in the arguments being put forward by the MSM (they know the right to reply bill will not be passed in the face of nearly universal condemnation ) and I wanted to rattle their cages a bit if I’m able to.

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