Seares: Bohol publisher convicted, nailed on issue of malice

THE publisher-editor of Bohol Balita Daily News (BBDN), a Boholano-Bisaya tabloid based in Tagbilaran City, has just been convicted of libel. And these were cited as major reasons for the court finding malice and declaring him guilty:

* The paper’s reporter, who was not included in the complaint, cited as his source a dyTR radio report in which the complainant, a Bohol high official, was interviewed and a police officer read a text message sent by an arrested drug suspect. BBDN, the judge noted, merely used “secondary sources.”

* The tabloid, the complainant said, did not interview him. The publisher testified that it is not “the practice of media” to call the person or persons they report about in their paper;

* The complainant also alleged that “even before,” the paper had been critical of him and its reporting had been unfair.

Court ruling

They constituted malice, according to Tagbilaran City Regional Trial Court Judge Suceso Arcamo who found BBDN publisher-editor Johnny Orioque guilty of libeling Bohol Provincial Administrator Alfonso “Ae” Damalerio.

In a decision promulgated last June 29, the court meted out the penalty of a P30,000 fine, or subsidiary jail term if he won’t pay, and P500,000 moral damages. Damelerio had asked for P2 million damages.

Bohol Chronicle, reporting the story on the court ruling, didn’t say if Orloque would appeal. But his lawyer might disagree with the judge on the finding of malice and raise it to the Court of Appeals.

Relying on radio

Was there malice in using a radio report as the paper’s source? Deficient reporting maybe but not necessarily being malicious. And the radio was not secondary source. The radio interview of Damalerio and the cop, aired live, was primary source, made available by a simple and time-tested technology.

The paper’s failure to contact Damalerio before printing the story indicated lack of diligence. While accessing the public official is not prior requisite for publication, it’s good practice adopted by most journalists. But by itself the omission didn’t prove ill-will or spite.

And a news outlet’s past record of unfairness is not merely alleged; it must be backed by specific instances and incidents, proved by news clips or, in broadcast libel, by records or tapes. Was that how the complainant proved the alleged malicious reporting?

Burden of proof

But what must bother BBDN and other community journalists in a similar situation was the view of the judge on presumption of malice. The court, the Bohol Chronicle reported, said that since Orioque did not show “good intention and justifiable motive,” malice was presumed.

Once the journalist shows that the subject of the story is a public official and the news relates to his function, the burden of proving malice is shifted to the complainant. Malice is no longer presumed; actual malice must be proved.

Two counts of libel were filed by Damalerio: the news about the official’s alleged link to drugs and the news about his alleged profiting from earthquake donations, both on page one of BBDN’s Oct. 9, 2014 issue. But the public official would need only one to nail the journalist’s ass on the wall.

* * *


‘Deepfake’ video could do worse

THE camp of Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing last week complained that a video was “spliced” or otherwise “edited” to show him alone on a yacht with a number of young, scantily clad women. Which was not what happened: the mayor was only one of the guests.

In a year or two, a similar video can be made to show not just images of Luigi in an embarrassing situation but also with him speaking although he never said it.

When, not if

Henry Farid, a digital forensics expert of Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire, told A.P. (Associated Press) the technology is now being perfected. No longer a question of “if” but “when”: he predicted its use in the next U.S. midterm or presidential elections.

It’s called “deepfake” because it uses deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence. Fed into a computer is an algorithm or set of instructions with lots of images and audio of a person. The images will include mannerisms and facial expressions and the audio will mimic the way the person speaks and his voice inflections. It will be difficult to recognize if the video is the real thing or bogus.

What to believe

Result: we media consumers would not know how to believe what we see and hear in news outlets. Its impact on information-seeking will be devastating, with people doubting the facts they get even though those are supposed to be genuinely documented by video.


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