“On the contrary, what I want the right to reply to do is to underscore the fact that that freedom — the freedom of the press, of speech, of expression – is not the monopoly of the members of the Fourth Estate. It also belongs to all the people – literate or not,” Pimentel said in a privilege speech at the Senate in defense of his authoring and sponsoring of the right to reply proposal (Senate Bill 1178).
He lamented that in the last several days, his friends in the mass media have again taken offense with his espousal of the bill which is now awaiting action by the House of Representatives.
“I am being pictured as someone who has turned his back on the right of our mass media friends to exercise the freedom of expression f the press. As if in the twilight of my life, I am becoming a traitor to the cause of freedom that I have always fought for as a legal practitioner and as a public servant – a time line that spans at least 40 years,” the senator from Mindanao said.
“I’d like to say that nothing is farther from the truth.”
Pimentel said the bill seeks to expand and not curtail press freedom. He said that freedom has been erroneously assumed to mean as if it were an exclusive prerogative of the press.
“In short, even if the right to reply becomes a law, the press will continue to have the right to offend. There is no prior censorship that is being imposed by the right to reply bill,” he explained.
He noted the common stand of journalists that there is no need to legislate the right to reply on the ground that the mass media are already being policed by their respective organizations like the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas and the Philippine Press Institute.
But he said the sad fact is that no press organization – neither the KBP nor the PPI – has jurisdiction over the thousands of so-called independent media practitioners all over the land.
“Who will assert the right of the people to reply to the brickbats thrown their way by irresponsible media practitioners who take liberties with the reputation of whoever happens to have incurred their ire? Pimentel asked.
“If they are not members of the KBP or the PPI, who will do the policing of their ranks?”
The veteran parliamentarian said there are some print or broadcasts journalists who a
pparently cannot accept differences of opinion coming from their readers and listeners. During his long years of his public life, he said he has noticed that certain journalists do not want their pieces corrected or opinions contradicted even for factual flaws or egregious errors of conclusions.
“And woe to those who would challenge their preconceived notions?” Pimentel said. “I submit there is room for improvement in this regard. In an honest-to-goodness discourse on public issues, there should be room for dispute, discussion and disagreement. There should be space for civil argument that need not degenerate into a brawl of cuss words or a melee of clashing motives.”
Under the bill, persons who think they have been unfairly criticized or attacked over the radio or television can invoke their right to air their side in the same radio or TV program. If a person is hit in the print media, the reply of the person criticized should appear on the same page, column or some prominent space in the newspapers concerned.
Pimentel said the right to reply bill merely legislates the rules of fair play in journalism. But he said the ideal setup is for the rules to be done by the media players themselves.
“But until it is demonstrated that they are able to do so, the right to reply bill must be enacted for the well-being of society,” he said.
The bill, according to the senator, is subject to a “sunset clause” such that it ceases to be effective if it is shown that the mass media outlets are able to police their own ranks.
Pimentel also sought to allay the apprehensions of media practitioners that publishing the reply in the space where the replier was earlier criticized would eat up, say, the whole front page or a substantial portion of it.
“My reply is that there should be a way of substantially conforming to the requirement of the right of reply bill. If the offending criticism was done on the front page of a newspaper, for instance, the publication may have an ‘ear’ or a ‘ticker’ or a ‘teaser’ prominently carried on the front page that can call attention to the reply while the rest or a substantial portion of the reply may be printed in the other pages,” he said.
Pimentel reiterated: “My friends in the media should not be offended by the right to reply bill. It is not a diminution of the freedom of the press or of expression. It is an expansion of that right so that it is not confined only to the members of the media but is broadened to include the public at large.” (Office of Sen. Pimentel)