By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
It wasn’t the first time the question was raised but the argument of the inquirer, who identifies herself only as “Masscom Student” in the mail, deserves airing.
She asks: “The Cebu press through the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) opposes the proposed bill to make right of reply compulsory. But the Fair Election Act already contains legislated right of reply? Hasn’t CCPC’s opposition come late in the day? Besides, has the right of reply under the election law created problems to the media, at least the Cebu press?”
Republic Act 9006, known as the Fair Election Act, enacted Feb. 12, 2001, was followed by Resolution #3636 that Comelec promulgated on March 1, 2001 for the May 14, 2001 elections.
What it provides
The law provides in Section 10, and Comelec repeats in Section 23 of its implementing rules, the right of reply (RoR):
“All registered parties and bona fide candidates shall have the right to reply to charges published against them. The reply shall be given publicity by the newspaper, television, or radio station which first printed or aired the charges with the same prominence or in the same page or section, or in the same time slot of the first statement.”
An additional injunction–not said in the law but found in the Comelec implementing rules (under section 17 [h])–is that media “shall recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.”
Not there yet
CCPC started organizing in 2001 but it wasn’t until Sept. 1, 2005 that its members first convened and transacted business in en banc meeting. Since then it has been meeting regularly and, among others, keenly watching bills affecting the press.
When the Fair Election Act was passed in 2001 and implemented in the elections held that year, CCPC wasn’t there yet to say anything on any issue.
It was on Dec. 18, 2007 when CCPC issued a resolution opposing the then new proposal for an expanded RoR that applies to everything published in the media.
The same resolution said:
(1) the bill is illegal and unconstitutional, as it restricts press freedom and constitutes prior restraint;
(2) it interferes with editing process as it substitutes editorial judgment with judgment of legislators in the choice of content for newspaper space or broadcast time; and
(3) it’s unnecessary because right of reply is voluntarily complied with by journalists.
We don’t know if national and other regional press groups mounted strong protest against the RoR in the election law of 2001. It’s probable media overlooked the provision (it was only a paragraph in the law) or it was passed despite media opposition.
No default, need
That shouldn’t be considered default of media, which can still resist enforcement of the law by going to court. As to CCPC, it wasn’t there yet when the law took effect.
Now, since the press, specifically Cebu media, hasn’t been bothered since 2001 by candidates or political parties with complaints or lawsuits, doesn’t that mean ROR in the election law is harmless and the new expanded ROR bill is harmless as well?
The two versions are different from each other: Election ROR is limited to political parties and candidates, applies only during the election season, and Comelec merely encourages “airing of the other side and correcting substantive errors.” The expanded ROR bill pending in Congress is all-encompassing and poses a bigger threat.
And, hey, if the ROR provision in the election law hasn’t been used by politicians or their parties, doesn’t it also tell us there’s no need for the law as they must be satisfied with media’s coverage?