VOTE ‘NO’ TO INCLUSION OF RIGHT OF REPLY IN THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL


Slide1FORKED TONGUE is about the kindest phrase I can find for statements from the House of Representatives reassuring us of the near approval of the long-delayed Freedom of Information law.

The said law has been approved by the Senate. It continues to move sluggishly in the House. Partly, because of the mixed signals coming from the administration coalition’s boss — that’s President Aquino, in case you didn’t know; the so-called separation of powers is only invoked when it suits the leaders of this land.

The truth is, politicians are trying to throw all kinds of obstacles to the passage of the FOI bill. That, or inserting poison pill provisions. (You all remember the Anti-CyberCrime law)

The latest monkey wrench is the call for the insertion of the Right of Reply provision.

What does this represent? In a poll on the bottom left part of the HoR website ( see http://www.congress.gov.ph/cpoll/index.php?s=poll&pollid=59&voteid=2&poll=Vote ) Rep. Jorge Almonte, chair of the House Committee on Information, states that it is a “provision which would require media to allot airtime or print media space to aggrieved parties or to those claiming to be unjustly placed in a bad light by news stories.” THAT IS ACTUALLY ON PART OF THE STORY.

Media ethics mandate journalists to try as best they can to get all sides in a story. What the Right of Reply provision tries to do is, subvert a clear ethical rule and stack the odds in favour of powerful news subjects.

You want to know what what Right of Reply means in real terms? Look no further than the case of PNP chief Alan Purisima, the subject of investigation and suits because of reports of dubious wealth, among other things.

Ted Failon, the ABS-CBN anchor who did the investigative report into Purisima’s alleged properties, very clearly tried to reach him and his son several times. This was even before the PNP chief went abroad on an official trip. The citizens’ group leading the expose also tried — in vain — to acquire Purisima’s statement of assets and liabilities.

Because there was a refusal to comment, Failon went on to air his report. Now, we have the President — who thinks Purisima can do no evil — coming to his defense. (Read http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/09/24/14/pnoy-comes-purisimas-defense)

It wasn’t enough for Mr. Aquino to praise the man who allegedly saved his life during a coup attempt when his mom ruled the country. Mr. Aquino had to cast aspersion on the news reports about Purisima, implying that these were deliberately prepared while the PNP chief was out of the country. The subtext was, so that Purisima could not reply.

That is not the first time, of course, that Mr. Aquino has been fed the wrong information. But this is a statement that plays directly to the interests of Right of Reply proponents.

What they want is … news management at their own terms. They will sandbag journalists, ignore requests for interviews, hide from pursuing reporters. And then when the news comes out, they will demand their own air time and print space to air/print their side — unfiltered. 

In the last Congress, proponents even wanted the Reply to come out in exactly the same space and position, with exactly the same length as the original report. 

The Right of Reply also covers stories that already get the side of news targets but which the subjects feel is not fair to them.

In other words, they want a FREE PASS.

There are existing safeguards to irresponsible journalism. A draconian, unjust libel law for one.

What the Right of Reply provision does is punish EVERYONE. It would muzzle the press by giving the powerful free rein to media space and airtime. Think about that. And be afraid. Be very afraid.

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