Friday, February 8, 2008

Libel: Should it be decriminalized?

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The recent ascend of 'boy' Nograles to speakership in the lower house reminds me of a not so recent media incident.

A certain 'lex adonis,' through a popular AM radio broadcast, called him the 'burlesque king' for allegedly running around in a Manila hotel undressed, a very compromising situation. According to the story, the husband of his paramour caught them in bed, hence the nude scene...ha ha!

We Filipinos, indeed have a good sense of humor, lots of creative imagination (after all, what more can most of us do? or are capable of doing these days?), but when it results in a conviction of 'libel', damn! that's a different story. 'lex' now is languishing in jail on a five year sentence handed by the courts. Besides, the woman in the story, a certain news anchor for a TV station, filed a second libel case. That makes him ineligible for a grant of 'probation'.

It appears that he waived the right to defend himself for being unable to afford a lawyer and decided to go in hiding, tried in absentia, was later arrested and jailed. He accordingly receives some 7,500 pesos monthly as a commentator's salary. The government provides you a lawyer in case you can't afford one. His salary is below the required ceiling. Therefore he is qualified to have one from the Public Attorney's Office (PAO). Why was he not advised to avail of it?

A joke taken so seriously from the other end could have very nasty consequences. Just like in the said case. Every student in criminal law can tell you that nobody can be held criminally liable for a joke. Besides, being a congressman and a majority floor leader at that( now, house speaker), who would believe that it really happened? Stating the obvious, people like him never let their guard down.

Common guys! Can't you take a joke?

On the other hand, if you got rid of the regulation, that would only give rise to irresponsible journalism. A weapon mis-used for some other ends. Sana guided din sila sa limitations in the exercise of a right. They should try to discipline their own ranks. Also, an announcer should be solidarily liable with the station/corporate entity. Hindi naman kase gagawin ng employee ang isang bagay kung hindi yun in furtherance with the stations' policy. You may exercise your rights as long as it does not offend the rights of other persons. Siguro di na natin maiwasan yun, human nature is always prone to conflict, lalo na sa politics. A very dirty and dangerous game.


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