OPINIONS / COLUMNS(October 6Ė October 12, 2008)



Right of reply bills


Obviously, the authors of the right of reply bills were either misinformed or ill-informed on the workings of the press. Essentially, the bills seek to make mandatory for newspapers to print the side of a news subject, either persons or organizations, in any news story. Both versions of the bills that Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and Rep. Monico Puentevella authored require that the replies be printed word for word.

Anyone with an interesting quote deserves a space in a paper. But those whose intentions are merely to sell and defend themselves would only be wasting important news pages intended for readers who are hungry for information that would enable them to make intelligent choices by the time they fold the papers to a finish. Certainly, statements bordering on trivial and self-serving matters would not enrich readers. And ultimately, newspapers have everything but a space for any undeserved praise.

Even without the bills, news editors require reporters to get the other side of the story. That is the rule of thumb in any newsroom. The press live by the rule that there are many sides to a story. The basic journalism principle in achieving a balanced a story is to lay down the different angles of a subject matter Ė that is the rule on fair play. In fact, the more sensitive a story is, all the more that reporters are bound to treat the subject delicately taking care not to tilt the balance to the extent of being biased in favor of or against a person.

But because reporters are always on the run for deadlines, comments could not be printed all at once in the same story. The usual culprits include non-availability of the person for comment or he may have been reached for comment but that his statements were mere repetitions of his previous remarks which have been published in earlier issues. However, comments that would explain the side of an organization or a person who may have been wrongly accused of an act or omission are always given prominence as a matter of rule.

Meanwhile, if we go by what the bills seek to implement, any reply coming from any Tom, Dick and Harry would be given a space whether or not they are meritorious because thatís what the law demands. And certainly, those who are hungry for publicity would use the law for their benefit and force publishers to free some space if not all the pages for their comments no matter how trivial they would appear.

To justify the passage of the bills, the authors went public by saying that they were not given the opportunity to reply to critical stories about them in the past. If that is not the height of personal enlargement, then the legislators were merely trying to get even.

Senator Pimentel and Rep. Puentevella ought to be reminded that as a matter of law, press freedom is one of the Constitutional rights that is given preference in the hierarchy of rights. The right of reply bills run counter to the dictates of the Constitution that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.

Ilocos Times copyright 2008

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