Do you have the Right to Reply?

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.

President Aquino
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?

Celebrities
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.

Public Relations
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?

Private citizens
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.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • Problem is though, how one would quantify the alleged innuendo as significant enough to warrant reply rights…. and where does it end?
    perhaps those are metrics whoever is formulating these should consider, with policy in favor of the newspaper publisher’s rights.

  • from BBC — Offering a right of reply to those who are the subject of significant criticism or allegations of wrongdoing is a fairness obligation under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. It can also help achieve accuracy in our output by serving as fact-checking and informing the nature of our allegations.

    i personally believe it should be an obligation (not a requirement) to hear a “right” of reply… but this is the Philippine media and it still hasn’t proved its moral aptitude to me, so until a time the media can self-regulate, I am all for imposing a (temporary) requirement for the right of reply.

  • Right of reply puts the lunatics (the readers) in charge of the news publications. A very very very bad idea. It is reflective of a government that just can’t get the “authoritarianism” out of its freedoms.

  • manuelbuencamino

    I don’t know but as an opinion writer for the news portal of TV5 I am for the right of reply. I don’t mind giving the other party the right to respond in his own words in my space. I welcome it. I am not afraid of being proven wrong or made of fun if I started it. I am for dialogue. I think if you start a fight you should not be allowed a safe zone where your victim is not allowed to enter. Stand by what I say and make a stand where I said it. If I need to hide behind a skirt then I am in the wrong profession.

    • GabbyD

      there’s nothing stopping you from doing that.

      contra jeg —
      for the online media, thats what the comment section is for. if you are in favor of open discourse, keep them comment section open.

      • manuelbuencamino

        Gabby,

        Yes gabby that’s why I said I welcome it.

        But here’s the thing. Apparently many do not allow a reply and that’s why there are those who think that a law mandating a reply is necessary. If a reply is SOP then there would not be need to legislate it.

        On the other hand, you hear reasons why the attacker should be given protection and why a mandated right of reply takes away their protection.

      • Yes. The comment section is for replies. But what if I dont want to provide you with a comment section? Or suppose Im a dick I choose not to publish someone’s reply on my own site? Should I go to jail?

        A site owner should not be obligated to provide one if he doesnt want to. A reply (and a link to the particular post) can still be made from another venue on the internet. I am against any law that mandates that a blog owner (or any media owner) *should be forced on pain of punishment* to provide a space in his own property for replies. If a blog owner provides one, well and good. If he doesnt want to provide one, he should not be punished.

        To reiterate, you already have the right to reply. However a commenter has no rights on someone else’s property and a law that says he does is unjust.

        –Jeg

    • cocoy

      Don’t you think that it should be editorial oversight? After all, shouldn’t that be the case, anyway being in the nature of news? “To get the other side’s story”?

  • This should be seen in the light of property rights. Do you have a right of reply? Yes you do. Freedom of speech after all should be seen in the context of dialog. Do you have a right to force someone to give you space in his or her private property without his agreement? No you dont. The right of reply rider does just that: Force an owner of a property (newspaper, blog, whatever) to give you space in it.

    To illustrate: an owner of a blog for example should have the right to ban a commenter or delete a comment for whatever reason. Even if the reason is stupid. The commenter does not have a right to someone else’s blog. This does not bar the commenter from replying to the blog post in his own space, be it his own blog or FB account.

    -Jeg

    • manuelbuencamino

      jeg,

      1. Illustration: pagtinira mo ako sa blog mo siguro naman ang sagot ko ay dapat lang sa blog mo din para yun mismong mga taong nakabasa ng paninira mo ay mabasa din naman ang sagot ko. what good will it do me if my reply is read heard or seen by people who are not aware of your attack? Bottom line is kung babanat ka dapat handa ka nakipagsapakan. Pangit naman kung hit and run journalism ang paninindigan mo.

      2. Each Filipino is guaranteed freedom of speech and expression ayun kay Coco. Kung ipagbabawal mo ang right of reply eh di you curtailed my freedom of speech and expression.

      3. At the end of the day, all the arguments against right of reply are nothing more than justifications for hit and run journalism.

      • manuelbuencamino

        4. Ang sabi ng mga anti ROR eh you can answer anywhere naman except in my space etc. so your freedom of speech/expression is not being curtailed. Sa China walang free speech sa internet, dyaryo, tv etc pero meron silang democracy wall. Dun pwede mong sabihin ang gusto mo. Meron na bang freedom of speech/expression sa China kasi meron silang democracy wall? Wala pa rin di ba? Kasi when you limit the area/space where I can or cannot exercise my right to speak you are already restricting that right.

        • GabbyD

          the issue here is a trade off between private property and freedom of speech.

          Example: lets say i said mr x is stupid.

          under the logic of right of reply, i have to, using my own mouth and time, go around and tell everyone mrx isnt stupid.

          is this ok with you?

          • manuelbuencamino

            No He will be using his mouth and time

      • GabbyD

        “2. Each Filipino is guaranteed freedom of speech and expression ayun kay Coco. Kung ipagbabawal mo ang right of reply eh di you curtailed my freedom of speech and expression.”

        the ironic thing is that you just defended the “religious feelings” law using the OPPOSITE sentiment you express here. there, u said that curtailing freedom of speech is not good when conflicts with religious freedom.

        here, you say that freedom of speech trumps private property.

        yikes!

        • manuelbuencamino

          Gabby,

          In the case of Celdran obvious naman : right message, wrong place, wrong time.

          Ikalawa, yun ROR ay personal yun. Reply to a personal attack. Ngayon ang position ba ng Church against artificial contraception targets Celdran personally or is the Church’s position a statement of principle?

          Ayusin mo ang mga parallels mo

          • GabbyD

            the distinctions you make here dont matter.

            1) right message wrong place/time? freedom of speech (vs other freedoms/rights) has nothing to do with the “rightness” of the message or the “wrongness” of whatever.

            2) the personal ness of the attack doesnt matter either. give me a law, philosophy — geez ANYTHING that says “ah, personal means this” and “non-personal merits this response…”

            does the ROR bill take these distinctions too? a personal attack –> ROR yes!, but for non-personal –> no ROR?

            serious?

          • manuelbuencamino

            Personal attack would be me calling you an idiot. Non-personal attack would be me disagreeing with your idiotic comment. One is ad hominen the other is disagreement over an issue. Now my point is an ad hominem attack on you would require me to give you a chance to respond where I made the attack. A disagreement with you over an issue well you can sell your advocacy wherever you want but I don’t have to give you my space for that. Is the distinction clear enough for you?

      • 1) Nararapat lang ayon sa GMRC. Pero kung ayaw kitang bigyan ng espasyo sa blog ko? Dapat ba akong makulong?

        2) I did not. I curtailed the sense of entitlement that the person Im attacking has over my space. Gabby alluded to it in his comment: It is akin to condoning Carlos Celdran’s actions in the cathedral. (BTW, I think Celdran’s actions were more of a breach of contract than a free speech vs. free worship thing but that’s another topic. Bottom line: No jail time, if our laws were sane.)

        3) As the Brown Bomber once said, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” Hit and run ‘journalist’ can hit, but anyone, especially a govt official, can hit back

        –Jeg.

        • manuelbuencamino

          Jeg,

          I have no sense of entitlement over your space. No one has that except you. But if you use your space to launch unprovoked personal attacks against another person then you should be able to stand up and defend what you said. Otherwise hit and run ka lang. Gawain ng duwag.

          • manuelbuencamino

            Dun sa ex. 3 mo. I already said, the vital element in ROR is to be able to reply in front of the same audience that heard/read your attack. Doesn’t work as a reply if when you insult me on your TV show in ABS CBN I can only reply to you via the Home Shopping Network. See what I mean?

          • Jeg

            A more realistic and sane example would be to reply via, say, GMA 7. Replying via the Home Shopping Network is, well…

            Let me try one more example, then you can have the last word. Suppose I yell insults at you from my house. I expect you to get mad and insult me back from the street. If you try to forcibly enter my house, you can be sure Im pulling put a weapon.

            Last word yours, MB.

          • manuelbuencamino

            Yelling back at you from the street is the correct place for a reply because that’s where the insults were heard. I don’t have to go inside your house because who gives a shit what you and your household talk about inside your house.

          • GabbyD

            “Yelling back at you from the street is the correct place for a reply because that’s where the insults were heard”

            also, and CRUCIAL is that the street is common property, so you have a right to say there.

            what you CANNOT/SHOULD NOT do is enter his house, and reply there.

            SEE the difference?

          • Jeg

            So kung nauunawaan ko ang nais mong mangyari, gusto mo ipagbawal ang karuwagan? Anong parusa ang nararapat sa mga duwag?