Bad medicine

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The Right of Reply bill is far from dead despite the withdrawal of support for it by senators who either sponsored it, voted for it, or supported it by not saying a word against it. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., its principal sponsor in the Senate, insists that the journalists and journalists’ groups opposed to it have yet to convince him that their opposition is reasonable. The chief sponsor of the House version, Monico Puentevella, although he’s declared that the House version of the bill will no longer mandate prison terms for those editors who fail to publish “replies,” is still pushing it—and I use the term “pushing it” advisedly and in the same sense that a drug dealer pushes his dangerous wares.

If shoddy and unfair reporting is the disease it’s meant to address, a right of reply bill is no cure, and is in fact worse than the disease in that it’s certain to kill the patient. The patient isn’t press freedom alone. It’s the entire media system as well, whose primary function is providing information more than entertainment.

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The usual victim

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A “Right of Reply” law is likely to be passed before Congress goes into Christmas recess this year. As most journalists know—or should—such laws compel media organizations to publish the reply of persons who believe themselves to have been unfairly treated by the media. They make mandatory the professional and ethical responsibility of journalists to present all sides in an issue.

The proponents say the law would be to the public’s benefit. Don’t you believe it. Both the House bill (HB 3306) and the Senate bill (SB 2150) which passed that body by a vote of 22 to 1 last June, do include among those who have the right of reply “all persons natural or juridical… accused directly or 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.” Such persons “shall have the right to reply to the charges” whether these appeared in print or in websites, or were aired over radio and TV.

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