A Right to Reply bill was filled before both houses of Congress, and, as a rider on the Freedom of Information bill. What does this do? The bill seeks to give any person, who is being criticized by innuendo, or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life. And they will have the automatic right to be published, heard equally— same time or space, at the same publication or broadcaster. It is asking for equal time for anyone. It sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?
No. It isn’t. Let me tell you why.
Let’s start it off like a “Case study”. Emphasis on the quotation marks.
Let’s start the case study on the President. Right now, it is President Aquino sitting in the Palace. It could be any president really, but let us use him as an example.
At the beginning of the President’s term, President Aquino was always in the papers, with seemingly a different girl at his arm. And the media love this kind of “news”. Personally, I don’t really care about what the president does in the small free time that he has— I’m sure even when he’s free, he isn’t really. As a bachelor myself, I understand the need to date, and so it couldn’t have been easy for the guy. It isn’t much of a stretch in imagination how it must be like, being President, and going out on a date. It probably would have been like having your mother watch over you with binoculars. If you don’t believe me, go and see movie, “The American President”.
So anyway, let us create a “theoretical” scenario. President is dating a beautiful girl. News hits the headlines, not the entertainment pages, but the headlines that the innuendo is, he is dating another girl. How well do you think that would go?
Does the President have a Right to address his dating issue in the front page?
The President is, a public figure. A public figure is a public official, or a person involved in public affairs. Sometimes a public figure could be like Christopher Lao— a private person— that becomes, sometimes, due to circumstance, for a short period of time, (and sometimes not), in the public spot light. The President is, a public figure. He ran for several elected positions. And he is the most powerful person in the land. A public figure’s life is, by default scrutinized, and his action, whether good or bad, observed, ridiculed or praised at the same time, and at any given time, by everyone. In a democracy, our right to free speech guarantees that sometimes— even wrongly we burn the President, or any public figure, in effigy.
Now a person entering public life— has always had a choice. While a public figure may not always have that luxury, a politician does. This was the profession he chose to follow. This is the life he leads. Consequently, he would have been aware of the pros and cons surrounding it. One of the cons to public life, and being a public figure is you get your images burned in effigy whether you do something good, or do something right. It is a no-win scenario.
So going back to the question: could the President answer the innuendo being thrown at him?
The President can, if he chooses to. He can even have the Press Secretary read a statement. He is the President. But he has the absolute right to reply, and the media, when summoned by the President will be there.
The President of the Philippines also has control of media. He has control of the government television station. He can, in theory address the nation there. He also has several government websites, and even has a separate official website for the Office of the President.
There is no stopping also the President from blogging. To have an official, personal site. The President also has a twitter account with his name, conceivably run by staff. (Come on, do you think the President would have the time, much less be allowed to tweet by his staff for fear he goes off message?) He also has an official Facebook page.
Let us not even begin to go through all the other options like personally hiring a public relations firm, separate from his own official, Communications Group. And let us not even begin to add the media value of the President’s own friends, and supporters, and lastly his very own sister— a public figure in her own right, who commands media attention.
So my point is, the President of the Philippines has many avenues, and options, and at least for this president, could, in theory, because of his sister, and long family history, push his voice a bit louder if he wanted to. So his side of the story would come out one way or the other, if he wanted to.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
Senator Enrile has had a long history in Philippine politics. He has mentioned that he has been vilified for his numerous roles through out the nation’s history. He was praised for his handling of the Impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona. Whether the villain moniker is true or not is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Quite recently, he was embroiled in a controversy. Senator Enrile, as Senate President reportedly gave cash gifts to the Senators during the recent Christmas holiday. The papers have been filled with interviews, and clarifications. Senator Enrile’s chief of staff also had her time on air.
Like the president, each senator has a media team on staff. Can you say that Senator Enrile or his fellow senators didn’t have the ability to reply? Much less get their side of the facts?
Do you think that Celebrities don’t have the ability to reply to accusations and innuendo? Or to generate their own during all those celebrity talk shows? Do you think that their agents, handlers and publicist, and public relations team can’t handle or dish out their own accusations?
The not so powerful, but equally public life
It has been suggested that not everyone is social media adept. This is true. This is most certainly true of many of our politicians. But like I said, many already have to one degree or another a media team. They publish, and communicate online. They handle twitter accounts, and Facebook pages. Not just of politicians, but celebrities of all rank hire people or a volunteer raises his or her hand to do it.
My point is, it isn’t inconceivable that a person, “attacked” has tools and mechanisms by which to “counter-attack.”
Let us take case of Teddy Casino. He is a long time public figure and politician. He isn’t rich as Senators. He isn’t as powerful as the President of the Philippines. Recently, he was flagged on social media. #epalwatchers flagged his poster, thinking it was pre-maturing campaigning. Correct me if I’m wrong, he took it down. Teddy Casino also has a twitter presence. He could reply to accusation, and communicate through twitter his thoughts and ideas.
Philippine media is so adapt that newsrooms already have someone monitoring politicians, and celebrity accounts. And I’m pretty sure some of them are following Teddy Casinio. We follow government accounts, and even the personal accounts of government officials. They are, normal human beings who happen to be public officials, and who live somewhat public lives. They have, however powerful, can reply on their respective channels and the news media would pick it up.
Publicists and public relations firms are all over the world. This is not a secret. And in time of “crisis”, they get hired to “spin”. These firms and people primarily generate “the messaging”.
A politician will have the money to hire one. Certainly, celebrities could— if not then their agents and handlers or network, probably could, and do.
Any person running for public office for example would have decided to raise some money to begin with. A campaign will have a media team. At least a campaign on the national level, will have some professional messaging team. As I mentioned, every senator has their own media team and they handle even websites, and social networking sites.
In the case of Carlos Celdran— a public figure can we say that Mr. Celdran’s side wasn’t or isn’t heard? At worst, we can say that the media doesn’t get it right, but his right to voice his opposition, and his friends’ right to spread the message isn’t opposed. In fact it is getting considerable media attention. It has even reached the BBC.
What then do you need a right of reply for?
Now, the Right of Reply, as the bill is written extends to ordinary citizens.
Can you imagine a private citizen’s deride would make it to the national paper? or even the local newspaper?
Imagine an ex-girlfriend posting on her Facebook page a deride, and what a horrible person I am. Suggesting innuendo and rumor and others. The normal course of affair is that I or someone close would reply on the post. And a war of words will ensure. Tell me you don’t have any friend whose life “imploded” on Facebook? Or if you even pressed “mute” or block?
Can you also imagine a Right to Reply applying to Facebook? An ex demanding time to write on a wall?
What the Right to Reply suggests
“Do not feed the trolls,” is a maxim on the Internet. Troll come in all shapes and sizes. Trolls are people who maliciously attack you. They post inflammatory, quite often extraneous, and off-topic messages with the intent to provoke you, a reader of the post into a very emotional response. A real troll is someone so adapt at doing this, you don’t notice it at all.
Ask Carlos Celdran of the myriad trolls he gets. Ask Deputy Press Secretary Abigail Valte, or Undersecretary Manolo Quezon, or Secretary Lacierda. I’m sure they all get their fair share of trolls. President Aquino has had numerous sites on the web calling him names, innuendo— in some, only in the imagination of those making it.
Sometimes, the best way for these innuendo, and malicious attacks is to do nothing. Do not explode. Do not fan the flames. In short, “don’t feed the trolls” even in real life.
The Right to Reply, in my humble opinion is an attempted attack on real life trolling. It seeks to arm the public official, a “license” of sort. It is an entitlement actually. An entitlement because a public official is demanding to be heard on a particular issue. The Right of Reply will only benefit public officials, and those with public lives. We have a higher expectation of those who live the public life. And it sounds awfully cruel, but as they say, “get out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the fire.”
Even the accidental public figure like a Christopher Lao would have his moment in the papers to tell his side of the story.
Public officials knew going in what kind of hell they are taking on. Why should we provide special privileges to them? Why should we provide special privileges when there are obvious avenues for them to take action. Public groups, and politicians have in the past, taken ads out on the pages of the newspaper, went on air to guest on television shows, and others. Mainstream media, social media like social networking sites, publicists, and public relations firms, not to mention their own, in house media team are options available to the public official, and to some degree or another, to minor celebrities or people living public lives.
Each Filipino is guaranteed free speech and free expression. People living public lives have that. Just because you’ve said your piece, doesn’t mean the public will accept it. And no law like a Right to Reply one will guarantee the messaging will sway your way.
In a hyper connected world, news and messaging circulate faster than you can type.
We live in a hyper-news world. News gets circulated faster than you can move from one place to another. For me, the Right to Reply suggests a certain entitlement. Just because every Filipino has the right to express themselves, and to have a figure of speech, doesn’t mean we have the right to listen.
The Right to Reply suggests the ability to dictate editorial terms to the media. “I need to be heard”. While the media doesn’t always get it right, it doesn’t seem fair to dictate terms. Besides, there are other options. Everyone can be media now, just open a blog.
On a blog, or website, the most common is the comment section, and a majority of sites let you leave your side of the story. Even if they didn’t, you can always write your own entry, and link back. You can also go on Twitter, and Facebook, and a whole building filled with options.
The Right to Reply is a lazy— and false attempt at controlling the message. Anything worth doing— especially if you believe so strongly in your defense is to do it right. Don’t be cheap, and lazy: hire professionals. If you’re a public official and can’t afford the professional, maybe you either need to raise campaign financing or get out of the profession. Entering public life isn’t a joke, and no one does it without thinking about the money or the processes, and a campaign will always have people who do the message. If the media or the public doesn’t get your message, maybe it needs refining, or maybe just maybe, you just don’t win this round. Have you thought of that? In a hyper-connected world, you don’t need the Right to Reply. You don’t need to RoR. Only dinosaurs do.