On fair play and the right of reply

“The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent. That’s power.” – Malcolm X

I’ll go against popular sentiment and support Rep. Rodolfo Antonino’s proposal to include the right of reply in the Freedom of Information Bill, not only because it challenges media on a right it considers sacrosanct –  the exercise of sole and absolute control over what and who will get how much printed space, airtime, or bandwidth – but, more importantly, because it guarantees fair play. 

The argument of media against the right of reply is framed as a struggle between freedom of speech and oppression. 

    “Right of Reply is repugnant to any true democracy’s notion of independent media. A press that can be dictated upon to dedicate time and space to anybody who cries foul is as good as censored. It is not just that the finiteness of time and space makes equal time and equal space an impossibility in print, on air, or even online. More to the point, any attempt to legislate responsibility and fairness in news and commentary can only end up hijacking journalists of their editorial prerogatives. It will force editors to surrender to law the use of their own human judgment, and yes, their own scruples, their own vulnerable sense of ethics, to decide what is fit to print or air. Telling media what it must print will have the same result as telling it what it must not: It will have the effect of prior restraint, and of denigrating our Bill of Rights. Right of Reply, everywhere it has been experimented with and failed, is not manifest in fair reporting but in dictated tyranny, on a daily basis,” said a recent editorial in this website. (Interaksyon.com)

As an opinion columnist, the framing of the argument works fine for me. Freedom of speech gives me the editorial prerogative of writing on any issue. I can attack anybody and I am not obligated to surrender any of my column space to a response because to be legally obliged to give up some of my finite space would, in effect, be telling me what I can or cannot write. 

I have the Bill of Rights to back me up. I can build or destroy as I wish. I have that power and I’m only at the bottom of the media pyramid. Above me are the editors and publishers and above them, at the top of the pyramid, are the owners. They control the flow of information and opinion, they have the last word on what to disseminate or suppress. 

Media prefers to call the arbitrary power to decide what information and opinion to disseminate or suppress editorial prerogative but I call it censorship. Censorship or editorial prerogative gives owners of the largest news organizations immense power. They can set the terms and scope of the national debate because the rest of media, from second-tier outlets to hao-siao operations all the way down to blogs and tweets, feeds on their headlines and editorials. 

Does the marketplace of ideas function more efficiently under a self-regulating media oligopoly than a system of laws and regulations that mandates fairness? Is it healthy for democracy to have a one-sided conversation?

Gagging speech is a crude form of censorship. The more sophisticated way is to allow everyone to speak but only a selected few to be heard. That’s what media does when it exercises editorial prerogative and denies a victim the opportunity to air his side. It mocks the Bill of Rights and it undermines the principle of fair play.

Fair play is as vital to democracy as free speech. Fairness is what Rep. Antonino’s right of reply amendment is all about. It addresses the question why should a victim of shoddy reporting or a demolition job be denied the right to rebut the information or allegation that could damage his reputation and good name? Why should a victim have to look for another forum to air his side? Why can’t he have the right to defend himself in the same forum where he was maligned?

I am not arguing for the right of reply as a cover for what closet authoritarians call responsible journalism.  We all know that the meaning of responsible journalism is subjective – if you agree with the story then it’s fair and balanced and if you disagree then it’s biased and unfair – so I won’t cite numerous reports and editorials that I find irresponsible. Besides, I don’t believe a law mandating responsible journalism will work because responsibility cannot be legislated. But fairness can be. 

I support the right of reply because every victim should be given the right to air his side in the same forum where he was singled out. Rep. Antonino’s right of reply amendment gives media’s victims the wherewithal to defend their reputation and good name. 

    “Opportunity to Reply – Any person natural or juridical who came to be involved directly or indirectly in the issue publicly obtained (meaning obtained under FOI) must be given the opportunity to account for, explain, manifest or throw light upon the issue concerned in the following manner” – give equal space or time for a reply in the same printed space, on-air segment or online post where the information appeared, not later than three days after its printing, airing, or posting. 

The right of reply amendment is not an attempt to “hijack the editorial prerogatives” of journalists nor does it attack their  “vulnerable sense of ethics”. It is not a prior restraint ruse or a denigration of the Bill of Rights. It is victim-oriented legislation, it mandates fairness, it levels the playing field for the victim, it is not legislated oppression. 

How can giving a victim the right of reply be tantamount to the suppression of freedom of speech? How can the “finiteness of time and space” be cited as legitimate grounds to deny a victim the opportunity to defend his reputation and good name? 

Media cannot tell a person who feels maligned, “We would love to have you respond but we don’t have the time and space to carry your rebuttal. Pasensiya na lang, poh.” 

Time and space limitations are not valid grounds for evading accountability. If media wants to call Rep. Antonino’s amendment legislated fairness then so be it. Because if media will not play fair then it must be made to play fair. And that’s only fair. 

My only criticism of Rep. Antonino’s amendment is it grants the right of reply only to those affected by the FOI Bill. There are many victims of shoddy reporting and demolition jobs who have nothing to do with government and they will continue to have no recourse. But we can leave consideration of a stand-alone right of reply bill for a later time. 

For now, suffice it to say that Rep. Antonino’s amendment is about fair play. It is not against the freedom of speech because granting victims the right of reply fosters rather than stifles freedom of speech. It levels the playing field, it allows victims to be heard as loudly as those who own the means to be heard far and wide.

Let’s have freedom of information and the right of reply. Both or nothing. Democracy cannot thrive with one and not the other.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • GabbyD

    So, there are no examples of media abuse eh?

    so this bill has NO EVIDENCE supporting its necessity… why are we talking about this again?

    • manuelbuencamino


      There is NO EVIDENCE of libel EVER, ANYWHERE in media?

      • Well, maybe the claim by GabbyD is too absolute, but the point is good. Where is the evidence, the case study, the rationale justifying a law that, at its worst application, could be used to suppress an open press? Or does someone just have the “idea” this this is needed. You know, the opinion?

        • GabbyD

          is it too absolute?

          what is ONE EXAMPLE where the media ignored the other side?

          • Just reflecting on a principle I learned I learned in the seventh grade. “Never say never.” Mr. Zarlengo was the teacher, probably Croat or Serb. Of course, now that I reflect on it, he was also the guy who said “always carry a 10 foot pole when you go ice skating, in case the ice breaks”. He’s also the guy who ran and hid in the broom closet when a carload of thugs came down from the high school looking for him.

            Look, I am agreeing with you, not contesting you. I’d like to know the factual substance behind the proposed right of reply amendment to the ROI Bill.

          • manuelbuencamino
          • GabbyD

            huh? malabo ulit.

            that is a story about how a newspaper stole from the guidon.

            kasama ba yan sa right of reply? kahit ano ba puwede sa right of reply?

            in this case, what ISN”T part of right of reply. can we “reply” to anything?

            for a law to make sense, there has to be things that arent part of it, where you’d say, “ah, the right of reply doesnt apply to that”

            kung lahat puwede, walang limit, then this law is crazy.

          • manuelbuencamino

            It is an example of the tyranny of media owners. Only they can decide what’s fit to print. Now how’s that for freedom of speech?

        • manuelbuencamino


          The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence I was told. ROR was not pulled out of someone’s ass. Or maybe it was by someone whose ass was kicked and he was not allowed to kick back.

          Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of the press. Those who do not own presses have as much right to speak and be heard as a media mogul. Free press is a product of spree speech. It is also private property. It can also be a for profit enterprise. Suppose my freedom of speech, which my ROR, goes up against freedom of the press/media that you own, ii your right to use your press/media freely greater than my right to speak and be heard?

          • manuelbuencamino

            To put it another way – freedom of speech is a universal right. It belongs to all of us. Freedom of the press is a private right in that it belongs only to those who own media. My support for ROR is based on freedom of speech. I think freedom of speech cannot be realized to its fullest when we allo media moguls to fence off what the Inquirer president and ceo called “valuable editorial real estate.” Of course if I owned a network or a newspaper it would be in my vested interest to oppoes ROR. But I don’t own any media, I have no megaphone, so I want ROR because I want my response/rebuttal to as loud as your attack on me.

            Still another way of looking at it, this time from the stimulus response perspective. The news item is the first punch. The media you own threw the first punch. That means you are confident you can take my counterpunch. Except you’re not so sure that I can’t knock you out so you all make sorts of excuses – finite print space, airtime, bandwidth – to prevent me from hitting you back. Now that’s patently unfair so you say okay I will make a retraction/apology/correction as the case may be and put it in whatever available print space or air time I have which is the same as saying you can punch me back but only where I allow you to hit me.

            So my freedom of speech – which means not only my right to speak but also to be heard because if you lock me up in a sound proof cell and allow me to scream and shout as loud as I want you would be mocking my free speech right – becomes secondary to your media’s right to speak because your attack on me can be heard far and wide and my response to your attack will not be heard unless you allow me to use your media to respond.

            Furthermore media will become even more fun for consumers if there is ROR. They will be treated to a real no holds barred debate. No more entitlement to the higher ground because of ownership. You hit me, I’ll hit back and may the better one win.

            Media cannot hide behind the mask of non-partisan objective observer anymore because it is not, never was, never will. Whatever is printed or aired has gone through the subjective judgment of editors and publichers

          • I don’t want to keep going around the mulberry bush with you. We disagree. I still like you, respect you, even. heh heh

            By the way, I enjoyed this guy’s perspective at Rappler. It’s rather a giant word puzzle: http://www.rappler.com/nation/16856-foi-hurdles-house-committee#comment-720594661

      • GabbyD

        huh? of course there is evidence of libel.

        thats not the issue.

        the question is: does the media ignore the other side? how about one example where that actually happened?

        • manuelbuencamino


          That’s the issue. I get libeled I have to sue if I want redress. That costs money I may not have. I have ROR i can reply for free. The issue is FAIR PLAY.

          • GabbyD

            huh? ang labo.

            if you are libeled, you sue. end of story.

            if you are untreated unfairly by the media, THAT IS NOT LIBEL. different story.

          • UPnnGrd

            If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

            Otherwise, it is libel!!!!

          • manuelbuencamino

            When you sue that’s the beginning of a long and expensive story that could be the end of you

  • GabbyD

    when has the media not played fair and NOT aired the other side of the story?

  • cocoy

    The right if reply is an idiotic law. In this day and age where anyone can blog, tweet and Facebook, right of reply is fit for dinosaurs.

    • manuelbuencamino

      ROR is the right to reply in the same forum where you were trashed. If I slandered you in front of total strangers you will have the right to reply to me in front of those same total strangers not in some other street in front of other total strangers who don’t know what the hell I’m responding to.

      read hb4252

  • UPnnGrd

    Isn’t the main premise of Freedom of Information the desire of Pilipinas citizenry to have access to information inside Malakanyang and Congress (and the gobyerno of cities and provinces)? It is not access to the minutes of meetings by San Miguel board of directors ( there should be laws already that cover that ) the FOI is desire of Pilipinas citizenry to have access to gobyerno information.

    I can see why GuLLOO would not want the media to have access to her discussions with this or that group about Hacienda Luisita or about the Spratlys or campaign financing or NTN/ZTE or deals with Murad and Jaffar, but why would Senator Antonino be worried?

  • UPnnGrd

    Many countries (of European Union) do NOT have the “right of reply”, and the non-existence of “right of reply” has not stopped the citizenry or the government or the opposition from having a Freedom of Information Law that benefits their citizenry from finding out the ongoings of the KKK’s of gobyerno or the non-KKK’s of gobyerno (or of iglesia-this or house-of-organization that).

    I know that Brazil has the “right of reply” encoded as law. Maybe Pilipinas wants to be Brazil, or not at all? I do not know if Russia has the Right of Reply today (but Russia of Stalin’s time would not have “Freedom of Information”.)

  • Cha

    I see your point. But then again, the Legislators already have their privilege speeches and parliamentary immunity to defend themselves against “false” accusations just like the oh-so-innocent Senator Sotto has resorted to. How ’bout they also add a Citizen’s Right to Reply to offensive contents of these speeches and other such remarks made during parliamentary debate, to level the playing field?

    • manuelbuencamino


      The right of reply amendment says the reply must be printed, aired, or posted in the same publication, broadcast medium, website, or electronic device as the case may be. The idea is the reply should be “heard” by the same people who “heard” the original information. For ex. It does not do you much good if you were maligned in the Inquirer and your reply comes out in some local paper in Jolo. You want the Inquirer readers to read your reply.

      As to replying to privilege speeches, there is no way that legislators will allow anybody to mess with their milking cows. They have been using privilege speeches to attack and collect, defend and collect since time immermorial.

  • The problem is the nuisance complainer, and the fact that the Philippines is a sensitive place, with sensitive face. As publisher, I allow an article to be published that says Senator Cayetano plagiarized like Sotto. Both are offended, Cayetano because she does not like being compared to Sotto. Sotto because he does not believe he plagiarized. Both want right of reply space.

    As an editor, I have lost control of my publication, which is, after all private property.

    And, once burned, I start to refrain from doing edgy material. And all the press of the Philippines becomes boring and useless baby pablum. I’d rather have sensationalism.

    I’d rather that editors be free to pursue their business as they see fit rather than always be looking over their shoulders, rather than have their editorial judgment constrained by others. Boring, sensitive others.

    Right of reply is socialistic suppression of the vibrant free voice of a democratic press.

    You commie.

    • manuelbuencamino

      The right to reply is to correct misinformation that you believe can damage your good name and reputation. I guess you have to be a victim before you appreciate the need for a right of reply.

      • If the information is incorrect and it produces damages, request a retraction or correction. Or file a libel suit if it is material damage. I’d hate to see the press bogged down by relentless demands for right of reply. How do you define and manage it? Maybe you can put in some rules, like exclude those in public service or running for office. But I think it opens up a rat’s nest, and the occasional mis-information that exists now is not worth the loss of a free and unrestrained press. And you are right, I’ve never been the subject of a gross misrepresentation. Just little ones in blogs.

        • UPnnGrd

          the stunt is already working… distracting folks away from the BIG ISSUE of citizenry getting timely access to information generated within Malakanyang, Congress, the BIR and army bases… and the offices of provincial and city gobyerno’s. Did I say information generated inside Malakanyang?

        • manuelbuencamino

          testing. been trying to post for two days but it hangs.

          • manuelbuencamino


            Sorry for late reply. Technical problems it seems.

            1. Here’s why I wouldn’t allow sole discretion for media over corrections or retractions. http://ffasterthansharks.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/i-was-sottocopied-by-the-manila-bulletin/

            and here’s an excerpt from the speech from Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez at a recent media conference:

            ‎”…one of the most disheartening, disappointing and frustrating things is for one to find out that someone you’ve tried your best to support and whose independence you’ve nurtured breaks that trust by selling valuable editorial real estate.”

            So ordinary people who merely want an opportunity to respond are treated as squatters on valuable editorial real estate? It seems media moguls treat freedom of speech like they were subdivisions for the affluent or exclusive country clubs. They build a fence around it and all of us, the consumers of their product, live outside the walls. We cannot enter without a gate pass because we don’t have a Right of Reply.

            2. Libel case – so who can afford to hire a battery of lawyers against the army of lawyers giant media can afford? Besides libel stands until a court rules otherwise. And speedy justice is just not of things are around here. Imagine the time and expense, from RTC to CA to SC, everyone can save by simply giving space or time for a reply…

            3. Basic rule of reporting is present both sides in a controversy, R-O-R will ensure that both sides are presented with the added bonus that the other side gets to do it using unedited their won words. That puts the consumer in a better position to evaluate information.

            4. The definition, rules etc of R-O-R can be found in HB4252

          • manuelbuencamino

            Joe, Sandy Prieto Romualdez is presedent and ceo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Her family owns the paper

          • Perhaps you should seek Senator Enrile’s technical guidance on the posting problems.

            We need to project the future, and imagine how right of reply will be used. For every one legitimate case of bad behavior that needs to be rectified, we are likely to see hundreds of claims for right of reply when someone just has their socks or jock on a little tight. It becomes harassment and suppression of media voices that should be loud and unrestrained.

            The correct response is what the gentleman did, way late, Go public with a counterclaim and demand for apology in a different medium. There are many many outlets in the Philippines sympathetic to unrighted wrongs, so he always has his own voice. Just not at the Manila Bulletin.

            Diversity of expression is sufficient to right these kinds of wrongs. In the timeline of important events, although I understand the gentleman’s frustration, it weighs quite light.

            Promote diversity of expression. Not restraint of expression. That’s my principle here.

          • manuelbuencamino


            My principle is: Why can’t a victim have the right to defend himself in the same forum where he was maligned?

            And I would ask Enrile if I could trust what he says.

          • Because life is seldom fair, and the “bad” that comes from your principle, as I’ve stated, is likely to be far more damaging than the good that comes from the occasional correction. Not fair perhaps. But best if you believe a vigorous press is important.

          • manuelbuencamino


            I don’t confuse freedom of speech with freedom of the press. Freedom of speech is everyone’s right, freedom of the press concerns those who own media outlets and their subscribers.

            The biggest threat to freedom of the press is not R-O-R, It is the internet that allows all of us to speak and be heard. The internet ended the press’ monopoly on eyes and ears. Now we can all be seen and heard. That’s what freedom of speech is all about – tobe able to speak and just as importantly to be heard. Freedom of the press is about the press’ freedom to filter out what does not “fit”. Witness how US mainstream media behaved in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. You know what I mean.

            Now you say “occasional correction” when earlier you said, “For every one legitimate case of bad behavior that needs to be rectified, we are likely to see hundreds of claims for right of reply.” Which is it, Joe?

            I stand by my principle: “Why can’t a victim have the right to defend himself in the same forum where he was maligned?”

            And let me add another observation re your statement,”Because life is seldom fair, and the “bad” that comes from your principle, as I’ve stated, is likely to be far more damaging than the good that comes from the occasional correction.” I guess you would also shrug off the principle that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted.

          • You argue like GabbyD I fear, working my words around in nuances not intended. I don’t mind if we disagree. There are a lot of outlets in the Philippines on line, and there will be more in the future. News and blogging are joining, so someone can shout out any time they want. I’d rather have a regulator of the media than have congress passing laws that are rigid and unchangeable if they produce untoward results. I’m not lacking a voice, so carry on . . .

          • manuelbuencamino

            ” I’d rather have a regulator of the media than have congress passing laws that are rigid and unchangeable if they produce untoward results. ” vs. “Does the marketplace of ideas function more efficiently under a self-regulating media oligopoly than a system of laws and regulations that mandates fairness?”

            But I’ll go along with a “regulator of media” as long as no member of government and no member of media sits as a member of the regulatory body.

          • UPnnGrd

            Hah hah hah…. life is seldom fair, but sure doesn’t stop the sowing of confusion to slow down the right of Pinoys-of-Pinas to get timely access to information generated inside Malakanyang, Congress, or provincial or city governments.

            This R-O-R or no-F-O-I is like saying no one should be allowed to get a high-school educaiton if Aetas and other aborigines are guaranteed to have access to toothbrush and Colgate.