CEBU

Seares: When broadcasters themselves go to court to seek redress for libel

Medias Public

MEDIA workers rarely sue one another, especially among those who do actual journalism, such as gathering, writing and commenting on the news.

They hurl criticisms at one another, especially in broadcast, more openly and heatedly during the election season when radio commentators take sides in the political battle.

That happens when some politicians hire radio blocktimers to defend them and attack their enemies. The hiring is supposed to be secret and under wraps. The propaganda is more effective if it comes from an “independent” media forum and the expense doesn’t have to be reported to Comelec.

But the employment is soon exposed and the commentator’s employer/ contractor is identified and labeled by the program’s content. Whom is the radioman attacking and defending? Recall the radio war in Mandaue City during the last elections when both camps used radio blocktimers to throw dirt at their rivals.

Battle of propaganda

At times the intensity of the battle of propaganda through radio commentaries reach critical level: (a) when it’s the commentators who swap verbal abuse or (b) when they go to court.

Which was what happened in Dumague City.

Two broadcasters, Florence Baesa and Rex Pepino, charged in 2014 blocktimer Joene Cahilog a.k.a. Rex Santos with libel.

The Dumaguete Regional Trial Court last week found Cahilog/Santos guilty of libel, sentencing him to pay a fine of P50,000 to each complainant or face imprisonment if he cannot pay.

‘Dee[p-seated anger’

That wasn’t the first time, Baesa sued Cahilog for libel and Cahilog was found guilty. Earlier, in December 2015, the Dumaguete RTC slapped Cahilog with a two-year jail term and awarded Baesa with P20,000 damages.

Apparently, there is bad blood between Cahilog and Baesa, who had spent more than a decade as a radio reporter of dyRC in Cebu before she moved to Manila, then to Negros, also working in broadcast media. Baesa is now manager of Energy FM in Dumaguete.

Self-defense rejected

Rejecting Cahilog’s defense to Baesa’s 2015 libel case, Judge Arlene Cathering A. Dato said, “Apparently deep-seated feeling of anger, bitterness and resentment motivated the accused to utter the said defamatory imputations... such retaliation or vindictiveness cannot be the basis of self-defense in libel.”

Cahilog could answer Baesa, said the judge, but it must be a fair answer. In journalism school, the principle of proportionate defense is taught.

In the recent conviction, RTC Judge Leoncio Bancoro also noted the bad faith of Cahilog as reflected in his remarks.

In both libel cases, the virulence in language was evident, “as if the radio commentator wanted to wound and kill with his words.”

In sum, the same elements that convict a journalist when the parties are not media practitioners.

Competing with news

Some say that “real” journalists don’t tear at each other in public, much more engage in court battle. That assumes that radio blocktimers are not “real” journalists, which is debatable, as they use the same platform and devices of communication. Until a clear line is drawn, which is unlikely, between blocktimers and “regular” media, commentators of whatever stripe are listened to and wield influence on public opinion.

The conduct of people talking to the microphone comes under scrutiny, more so when the mic holders compete for attention with the news they comment on. And that is when they slash and hack at one another and seek redress in court.

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When repeating questions twice or thrice doesn’t badger

CHRIS Matthews just jolted the media world by ending his 30-year career at MSNBC by announcing his resignation at the start of the program and then leaving the studio.

Matthews ran Hardball, the longest-running commentary program in U.S. television, which averaged 1.53 million viewers in 2019, was reportedly forced to resign for alleged sexual remarks he made to a female journalist four years ago.

Worthy of recall about Matthews, these days when many journalists are criticized for not asking the hard questions, was his style of throwing questions.

[] “Keep at them, don’t give up, don’t stop.” That includes interrupting the source. Interruption, he says, means the person is not answering the question and you’re saying, “Okay now, answer the question.”

[] He says, ask the right questions and hang on through two or three attempts. “I can try two or three times, and then after the third time, I’m as limited as everyone else. You can ask a question about two or three times before people says you’re badgering the witness.”


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