CEBU

Seares: ‘Insinuation’ in news story helped convict Bohol publisher



THE news story in the Bohol Balita Daily News (BBDN) was defamatory, the court ruled in convicting publisher-editor Jonny Orioque, because it “insinuated” that complainant Alfonso “Ae” Damalerio, Bohol provincial administrator, meddled in the police operation that captured a drug suspect.

The tabloid’s Oct. 9, 2014 story did not say categorically that Damalerio tried to free Tyrone Animas, an alleged pusher, from the police. Animas had texted an unnamed person, his “bosing,” whom he asked to help as he was then about to be arrested at Bohol Tropics Resort where the hot pursuit ended.

Damalerio’s denial

Most of the story dwelt on Damalerio’s denial and explanation:
  • The headline said, “AE Damalerio nangulipas sa paglambigit sa police kaniya sa illegal drugs”;
  • In the body text, the public official repeated what the headline said, debunking the suspicion that his presence at the resort was highly suspicious and contending he didn’t know the suspect and his wife.
‘Unnecessary statements’

How then did Regional Trial Court Judge Suceso Arcamo base his finding that the report was defamatory?

Judge Arcamo, who presided RTC Branch 47 in Tagbilaran City, said “unnecessary statements” put Damalerio “in bad light and tended to cast dishonor” on the public official.

Not solid but...

The Bohol Chronicle report of July 1 cited this portion (court-translated from Boholano-Bisaya): “The police are dismayed and doubtful on the presence of Damalerio (at the resort) ...” after they learned about Animas’s text message to his “bosing” asking for help. The story said the “bosing” was not named in the text.

The BBDN story though did not say who among the police were “dismayed and doubtful.” No attribution and no factual support, except a sketchy text message, to the alleged police suspicion. Still, a deficient news story does not necessarily translate into defamation.

Damalerio was a public official present at a police operation and he himself denied that he intervened to help the suspect at a press-con, which BBDN covered by monitoring a dyTR radio report.

Unnecessary? That bit of information provided context and must have prompted Damalerio to explain to news reporters about his presence there. But the court called the news material “clear insinuation” and “evident imputation and insinuation.”

‘Unbridled license’

The court in its June 29 decision (which convicted Orioque and slapped him with a P30,000 fine and P500,000 moral damages) said that while a public official is “fair game,” media don’t have “unbridled license to malign his honor and dignity by way of publishing comments and reports about his personal life.”

True but, basing on the points raised by the ruling as reported in the Bohol Chronicle, the BBDN news story fell short of being defamatory and malicious.

Of public interest

And the story apparently did not intrude into Damalerio’s personal life. The presence of a public official whose duties include linking with the police was a matter of public interest as it involved the problem of illegal drugs, currently a hot news topic.

It was Judge Arcamo’s call: he heard the evidence and applied the law. But maybe the appellate court would look at it differently.

* * *

‘News’ is singular but when one uses ‘are’ instead of ‘is,’ it is not fake news.

Even the best-equipped and fully-staffedd newsroom or communication office is not immune from errors: factual, grammatical, or plain typo.

Media offices particularly are prone to mistakes because of the heat of deadline. “Washington Post” noted in a June 18, 2000 feature, that Post readers regularly complain of errors “that leap out from the pages of this paper nearly every day.”

PCOO, Malacañang’s communication unit, “relocated” the Mayon volcano to another province. The White House in a press release referred to “Air Force Once” and Trump in a presidential tweet described something as “unpresidented.”

“New York Times,” confusing the rule on number, used the plural verb “were” when the subject was singular: “Each of the team’s acquisitions were players...”

“News” is singular, being the “aggregate” of the reports that a news outlet makes. Merriam-Webster says it is plural noun but “singular in construction.”

But when the mistake -- be it of fact, grammar or syntax, or anything else caused by a slip in typing and editing -- it is not, for goodness sake, fake news.

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