Forum discusses libel in media

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Saturday, May 5, 2012


“IS the Philippines considered free as far as press freedom is concerned?” Pachico Seares, executive director of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC), asked a forum celebrating the 2012 World Press Freedom Day.

The audience was silent. With the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 making the Philippines the third worst place to live for journalists in 2011, people apparently find it difficult to say if the country is free.

Various media organizations and groups held the forum yesterday entitled “Decriminalizing Libel.”

The forum was held at the Theodore Buttenbruch Hall, USC-Main, Cebu City by the CCPC, in partnership with the United States Embassy and The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network.

According to a study, the Philippines is “partly free” as far as press freedom is concerned.

During the forum, three media practitioners shared their experiences with being charged with libel.

“It’s part of the job description of a publisher and an editor-in-chief,” said Eileen Mangubat, publisher of Cebu Daily News.

Three years ago, Mangubat and three of her staff faced a libel suit.

Karlon Rama, former Sun.Star Cebu reporter, said it is part of the hazards of the job. He was charged with a libel case twice when he was still with the media.

Choy Torralba, dyRF radio program host, was charged with 23 libel cases, 18 of which reached the Supreme Court.

“Nituo man gud ko sa una nga pag wa pa ka gikiha og libelo (I used to think that if you don’t have a libel case), you haven’t arrived yet,” he said.

He said he has learned that one should be extra careful with what one says.

Through the years, several bills in both Houses of Congress were filed to decriminalize libel.

Upon consultation with the Cebu media practitioners and the Cebu Media Legal Aid, CCPC took its stand in a resolution that supports the proposal to remove the penalty of imprisonment in libel, but still consider it as a public crime.

Lead discussant Gabriel T. Ingles, court of Appeals associate justice, talked about the benefits and pitfalls of decriminalizing libel.

“Make it more difficult to prove malice so that it would be more difficult to get a conviction,” Ingles said.

He proposed that Justice Vicente Mendoza’s compromise formula on making a distinction between political and private libel be adopted. 

Representatives of different media groups also discussed some issues on the proposal to decriminalize libel, including CCPC’s resolution presented by Rose Versoza, Cebu Media Legal Aid treasurer.

The resolution supports proposals to remove the jail term as main or subsidiary penalty for the crime of libel.

Also discussed in the forum was the article “Attacking Press Freedom while ‘Enhancing’ It” by the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ).

The article said FFFJ was founded to address the killing of journalists and to protect them from threats. Objections to any right of reply (ROR) law were repeatedly emphasized.

“The right of reply is in the first place already part of the professional and ethical responsibilities of the press. It is also dangerous since it would infringe on a freedom vital to the health of a democracy,” the FFFJ said in the article.

The talk, attended by the different media practitioners from different media entities and students, was concluded with an open forum.

PPI members also conducted various programs yesterday in Manila, Davao, Bulacan, Gen. Santos, Baguio, and Cagayan de Oro cities to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. (Arvee F. Saren & Roxanne Cabriana, CNU Comm Interns/with Jewel Villaflores & Pauline Mae Abaiz, STC Mass Com interns)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 05, 2012.

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