Prosecutor: Newspaper ad can be ground for libel case

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Saturday, March 1, 2014


AN ADVERTISEMENT published in a newspaper is enough to establish a "probable cause" that could lead to filing a libel case in court, the city prosecutor said Friday.

City Prosecutor Fidel Macauyag said his office would only need a probable cause to endorse a complaint to the court.

“Probable cause — that the respondent is probably guilty of the crime and the crime was probably committed,” Macauyag said.

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Macauyag said the advertisements published in Gold Star Daily (GSD) were enough probable cause but he cannot pre-empt the judge if the evidence is not enough to convict him.

In an article published in this paper, Herbie Gomez, GSD’s editor in chief, called the libel case against him as ‘ridiculous.’

Gomez is facing a libel case because of a series of advertisements published in Gold Star Daily by two factions of a company who were in conflict in 2012.

Gomez said it is not even an issue of freedom of expression or of the press because he never wrote or edited anything on the published advertisements.

He added that he did not even know about the warring factions that are placing ads in the paper.

Other than that, Gomez said even if he knew about it he could do nothing on the ads because it was not journalism work and outside his job description.

Macauyag added the city prosecutor’s office cannot dismiss Gomez’s case because there is a probability that the crime was committed.

However, he said there is a chance that Gomez will be acquitted in court.

Beyond reasonable doubt

While the city prosecutor’s office only needs probable cause, Macauyag said there is a need for a proof beyond reasonable doubt before a judge could convict or acquit an accused person.

He added that in court the required evidence should prove that the accused is no doubt guilty that the crime was committed.

“The ballgame is in the court. Our part is only to check if there is probable cause,” Macauyag said.

Macauyag on Gomez’s case said: “I do not want to say that it is a proof beyond reasonable doubt—pang commercial ‘ata—lawyers ang involved who felt offended that the publication has ruined their reputation.”

He added that the media should be careful.

“I’m not saying that he (Gomez) is guilty, but there’s a probability of guilt. It’s off our jurisdiction to say that he is guilty or not,” Macauyag said.

He said there is a petition for review in the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the libel case on the editor in chief.

Libel to protect Journalists

Macauyag said libel as a crime will discourage people who are thinking of harming journalists, including bloggers, to retaliate physically.

He said if a public official or private individual feels that he is offended then they can resort to legal processes, like the cybercrime law, instead of resorting to violence.

“That is even an advantage to media people, to bloggers and to everybody who may have offended others through writing,” Macauyag said.

Macauyag added that if the freedom of the press is absolute it will likely add to the killings and physical violence toward journalists.

“The freedom of the press is absolute you’d expect that it will add to killings and physical violence—mag-retaliate dahil walang venue. The offended parties may now opt to legal processes instead of putting justice in their own hands,” Macauyag said.

He added libel as a crime is ‘the best tool’ for the aggrieved party because he can file a criminal case.

He added that through the law everybody will become responsible in their writing.

“So that everybody will be careful—every right in this world has a corresponding responsibility,” Macauyag said.

He said if libel will be decriminalize some offended parties might resort to violence because there will be no legal forum to express their grievances.

Dangers

Rowena Paraan, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said that libel has once again reared its ugly head.

“The incident just goes to show how criminal libel can be used by the powerful to target whoever they want especially people who criticize or provide platforms for criticism,” Paraan said in a text message.

“Herbie’s case also further illustrates the danger of recent SC decision expanding criminal libel to cyberspace and pushing backward the liberal attitude of the High Court when it comes to freedom of expression issues,” she said.

JB Deveza, coordinator of the NUJP Media Safety Office in Mindanao, said that based on a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) findings, libel is already “antiquated” and that it is no longer compatible in a country that practices the democratic form of government such as the Philippines.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 01, 2014.

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