Petty harassment

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

Straight from Carolinas

Saturday, March 8, 2014


IT HAS been said that a libel case is a “badge of courage” among journalists. The more libel cases you face only serve to confirm that you have “arrived” as a media practitioner.

Over time, this notion changed, as well as the perception of when a media practitioner earned his or her stripes. Now, being slapped with a libel case means not only carelessness but, stupidity on the part of the accused.

I'm talking about libel in relation to Mindanao Gold Star Daily's editor-in-chief Herbie Gomez, who got anxious for a while before posting bail. I asked friends based in Cagayan de Oro and this is what I got.

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The case against Herbie stemmed from an advertisement placed by a group of stockholders whom he referred to as “Group 1” that was in response to a public notice posted by “Group 2” of a corporation.

There was a pending civil case in Cebu City concerning their dispute and so they bought newspaper space to attack each other. The lawyers of Group 2 woke up one morning and decided to sue Group 1 because of a public notice that stated that the corporation did not engage their services.

Of course, you know already that a media entity looks to advertisements to fund their operations. What appears on the ads printed in a newspaper is beyond the control of the publication since it posts paid advertisements that don't violate public policy and morals.

The two groups bought newspaper space to attack each other and despite being editor-in-chief, Herbie pointed out on his Facebook page that he doesn't have any control on where and how the advertisements are printed on his paper.

He doesn't even know the two parties. How could the prosecutor's office also miss out the fact that editors don't have a hand on how advertisements are placed on the newspapers? The prosecutor can just Google it for reference.

How Herbie got hooked on the case I can only speculate but it smells like someone is on a fishing expedition looking for something to pin him down with so he can neglect his job.

Herbie posted that he did submit his counter-affidavit explaining his work but the answer was apparently ignored by those reading it. Why Herbie was not asked to submit the newspaper's organizational chart, you can guess.

Did the group actually decide that Herbie be included in the case? There were accounts given by media friends with connections to the prosecutor’s office that in fact there was a divided vote in filing the case in court.

It would indeed be ridiculous if Herbie hears from the powers at the prosecutor’s office, advising him to file a motion for reconsideration before it reaches the court. If the stories I hear are true, it is disturbing.

For whatever it's worth, I am quoting Herbie's post on his Facebook page: “Someone used influence to make the prosecutor‘s office bring the case to court.

There’s no way we can prove this at this time but Zaldy's story makes perfect sense. Note, too, that after you-know-who was beaten black and blue in the elections, a prosecutor talked to one of my reporters so he could relay the message that they wanted to drop me from the list of respondents/co-accused provided I filed a motion with the justice department. Although my lawyer did that (the DOJ has yet to act on it), the city prosecutor office's attempt to right the wrong came a bit too late because by that time, they have already filed the case in Court.”

You see there is loose talk that found their way to Herbie's attention. Talk about getting even. And was it a coincidence that the lawyer and the prosecutors are classmates?

These are questions that need to be answered. Next time anyone thinks of filing a libel case against local media practitioners, it better be one that covers all the bases and elements like malice or breach of trust and so on.

To be clear, I don't want Herbie or anyone else in local media face libel charges. I think filing libel cases and having them tried in court is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Not only would it cause countless sleepless nights but distract courts from handling more important cases. So many libel cases pending at the prosecutor's office that need not be filed at all especially if it's so petty.

Herbie's case also sends a wrong signal to local media by saying that even advertisements which are the lifeblood of any media outlets can also be used as basis for filing libel cases.

This would scare off media outlets and make them more cautious on accepting advertisements which they can ill afford in this age of competition unless they are paid by some powerful politician and political warlord.

It’s also a case of lawyers being ignorant of what journalists do or don't do. To use Herbie’s own words, his case is a “Sanamagan.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 08, 2014.

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