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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Saturday, August 30, 2014


FEW people sue broadcast commentators for libel.

A Capitol official who recently threatened to charge radio commentator Bobby Nalzaro changed his mind about filing a complaint. Nalzaro had repeatedly criticized the provincial attorney for his actuations as head of the province bids and awards committee. At a press conference, the official vowed to go to court over the “unjustified and harsh” attacks against him.

The alleged offense still has not prescribed, he may yet change his mind but the stalling indicates he may have given up the idea.

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Reasons not to sue
Friends who advised the official must have told him:

[1] Courts tend to favor journalists in libel cases involving public officials, given
the long line of Supreme Court decisions upholding free press and free speech and underscoring accountability of government personnel to the public;

[2] Unless there’s a clear showing of malice and little or no public interest is affected, courts throw out libel cases;

[3] It’s tedious if not difficult to record and preserve broadcast utterances, unlike in print media where words and images are recorded on paper.

[4] A broadcaster is rarely silenced by a complainant’s threat of a lawsuit; on the contrary, the broadcaster’s threat to continue the attack despite any litigation is what hobbles the complainant.

Getting the evidence

The last two reasons (#3 and #4) often drench the enthusiasm to sue.

Complainants talk about being given the runaround in asking for copies of tapes, now CDs, of the broadcasts. While rules of NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) require broadcast stations to preserve the record, it’s not for a long spell and they have all sorts of excuses.

Some station owners and managers prefer paying NTC fine to producing evidence against themselves.

That’s some kind of self-incrimination when the radio station provides the rope that would hang, figuratively, its commentator and slap the owner or manager with damages.

Not widely disseminated is an old SC ruling in the case of Cirse Francisco “Choy” Torralba vs. People of the Philippines promulgated by the Supreme Court on May 2, 2002.

It reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction of Choy by the Tagbilaran Regional Trial Court. The SC cited errors of the C.A., including its admission of the tape recording, as evidence of Choy’s broadcast, which the high court said was “unauthenticated and spurious.”

Recording the ‘libel’

That part of the ruling is what offers a lesson on how to sue a radio commentator without the hassle of securing the tape or CD from the radio station.

All that one must do is to have the offensive broadcast recorded and meet these requirements:

-- efficiency or effectiveness of the recording device;
-- the person doing the recording knew how to use the machine;
-- recording was authentic and correct;
-- changes, additions, or deletions have not been made;
-- recording was duly preserved;
-- the speakers were identified;
-- testimony was voluntary without inducement.
Not as tough, isn’t it, as getting evidence from the alleged offenders.

Avoiding violence

Complainant in the Torralba case, a lawyer, presented the tape but didn’t present as witness the person who recorded it. Tape was not authenticated and no witness testified that it was a faithful record of the offensive utterances.

While broadcast is said to be written in the wind, it may no longer be so in this more-enlightened media age. Broadcast stations now keep records of what they think is important. They’re just selective in preserving, much more giving away, copies of recordings they made, particularly when they’d be used against them in court.

Realizing that they’re not without legal recourse, as the SC ruling in the Torralba case instructed 12 years ago, complainants can sue instead of resorting to violence or using a gun-for-hire.

Literacy on workings of media and knowledge in media law work both ways: the news source, treated unfairly, would learn how to protect his rights; the journalist, aware of the sanctions in justified lawsuits, would be more respectful of such rights.

Most radio commentators convicted of libel threw broadcast rules out the window, spewing out ill-will in gutter language and touching on not a shred of public interest.

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 31, 2014.

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