By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita
In 2002, a Supreme Court ruling cleared Cebu radio commentator Choy Torralba of libel and gave a “tutorial” on how complainants may win a lawsuit against a radio commentator. In 2017, the same failure in evidence got Choy off the hook.
[Related “Media’s Public” article: “Why few aggrieved persons sue broadcast commentators,” Aug. 30, 2014]
Choy Torralba, one of the most-listened-to radio commentators in Cebu and host of dyRF’s talk show “Tug-ani ang Lungsod” on dyRF, was cleared last week of libel, a complaint filed in 2005 by Wellington Lim, brother of Peter Lim who’s being investigated on suspicion of trafficking illegal drugs.
Cebu City Regional Trial Court Judge Sylva Aguirre-Paderanga granted a “demurrer to evidence” which asked for a ruling on the basis of the state’s evidence, with the defense choosing not to present its side.
Cause of dismissal was similar to what got Torralba off the hook in another libel case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court 15 years ago. Namely: the tape or audio clip.
Paderanga cited, as a major reason, failure of prosecutors to formally offer as evidence the “offensive remarks” from the tape of his talk show (in 2005, on dyAR, Angel Radio). Choy allegedly said he saw the Lim brothers dining with the then NBI chief. NBI had investigated the Lims in relation to the House inquiry on the drug problem.
Much earlier, on May 2, 2002, in Cirse Francisco “Choy” Torralba vs. People of the Philippines, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of Court of Appeals that admitted as evidence an “unauthenticated and spurious” tape of Choy’s alleged libelous broadcast against a judge (when he was then on dyFX). The tape was presented but not the person who recorded it.
The SC 2002 ruling gave a simple tutorial on suing a broadcaster. The recording is the best evidence of a libel. Thus, it must be presented, be it procured from the radio station with the regulatory agency NTC’s help or recorded on the initiative of the complainant.
If it’s produced by the complainant, he must be ready to prove, the SC said in Choy’s SC case, that:
◘ The recording was effective and efficient;
◘ It was recorded by a person who knew how to use the device;
◘ It is authentic and error-free;
◘ No changes, additions, or deletions were made;
◘ Speakers in the tape or audio clip are identified;
◘ Testimony is voluntary, without inducement.
With that list and the help of a lawyer, an aggrieved person planning to sue will have better chances of proving his case. Radio commentators, forgetting that other people may be recording what they say on air, tend to be less careful than print journalists.
But why do many complainants fail to take the steps enumerated by the SC? Often, over a a broadcaster’s attack, they rage one moment and cool down the next. But an offended person who is bent on hitting back may collect the evidence diligently and efficiently, by the SC’s book, and, wham, unload it in court.
It requires much less when one sues a print journalist: the printed word doesn’t go with the wind. Still, the same elements of the crime of libel need to be proved.
Then Cebu governor Gwen Garcia sued dyAB’s Leo Lastimosa for his 2007 column in The Freeman, not his broadcasts, She might not have clips of Leo’s broadcasts but she had clippings of his past columns, which helped to identify her (as the “Doling” in Leo’s columns) and prove a pattern of malice. (Lastimosa was convicted by the RTC and Court of Appeals.)
An RTC judge in 2013 threatened Leo with indirect contempt but, obviously not having audio clips to support his charge, dropped it.
With the SC’s clear instruction on how to sue broadcasters, an aggrieved person can no longer fault the broadcast station or the NTC for not helping.
The playing field is somewhat leveled, unless you’re a public official who’s scared of a broadcaster with a big following and adept in dealing with libel cases. Like Choy.
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