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Jun 26th
Home Sections Literature and Fourth Estate Senator Pimentel Cites Need to Put Cap on Fine Imposed in Libel Cases
Senator Pimentel Cites Need to Put Cap on Fine Imposed in Libel Cases PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Literature and Fourth Estate
Sunday, 05 October 2008 00:05

S enate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Senator Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today underscored the need to set limits on the amount of fine imposed by the courts on accused journalists and other persons in libel cases.

Senator Pimentel said this will be a part of the bill now being discussed in the Senate which seeks to decriminalize libel to make the law less harsh on journalists charged for stories or commentaries that unjustly besmirch the reputation of certain individuals.


“The bill puts a cap on the amount of fine that a judge can impose on erring media practitioner. We cannot tolerate a situation where an unreasonably excessive fine is slapped on the guilty parties because of too much discretion given to the judge in determining the amount of the fine,” he said.


Moreover, he pointed out that the Constitution prohibits the imposition of excessive fines for violations of law or offenses punishable by law.


Senator Pimentel said he is hopeful that the Senate and House of Representatives will be able to pass the long-delayed bill to decriminalize libel and to limit the penalty for this offense to the payment of fine or civil damages.


He said what has given impetus to the approval of the bill is the directive early this year of Chief Justice Reynato Puno to the courts all over the country to refrain from meting out prison terms to journalists convicted in libel cases.


The senator from Mindanao observed that in many instances, the amount of fine – running up to a million pesos or more – that is slapped by the judge is too big and beyond the financial capacity of the journalists.


“It is imperative on the part of Congress to modify the antiquated libel law and make it attuned to the relevant jurisprudence that was spurred by the guidelines laid down by the Chief Justice to the judiciary,” Senator Pimentel said.


He however lamented that the proposed bill granting the right to reply, which is a companion measure to the decriminalization of libel, is being criticized by certain sectors of the media due to fear that it may curtail their prerogative to decide on what items to print or broadcast.


Senator Pimentel said that while the Journalists’ Code of Ethics requires newsmen to get the side of all parties involved in their reports, it is a fact that there are irresponsible members of the Fourth Estates that violate this fundamental rule with impunity.

He said there are repeated instances wherein persons who were maligned and insulted by the media stories or commentaries were unable to get their side printed or aired despite appeals for fairplay and objectivity because the journalists and owners of newspapers or broadcast stations are simply too biased or are pursuing a hidden agenda.


“I would like to underscore the fact that the bill on the right of reply seeks to expand the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression to include anyone, not only the members of the media.  The members of the media have that freedom but so do the members of the public at large.”


Senator Pimentel took exception to a remark by a leader of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines that the right of reply is an “unnecessary and stupid” piece of legislation.


“I guess the record of killings of journalists in this country is enough to refute the assessment that this is a stupid bill.  Because one of the reasons why journalists are killed is because they would criticize but the right to reply is not given immediate and adequate course in the presentation of reports,” he explained.


“And therefore, if that person is being attacked in the media, for example, that person has a right to reply. I don’t see anything wrong with that.  Of course, when you go to actual application, you are attacked in an editorial consisting of several paragraphs. You have the right to respond to that editorial to the extent necessary to answer scurrilous charges that are leveled against you.  But it will not necessarily over the space requirement of the newspaper. I think that should be covered adequately in the bill.”


The bill has a sunset clause which provides that the right of reply will cease to be effective after FIVE years. It imposes fines, but not jail sentence, on violators. # # #

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Last Updated on Sunday, 05 October 2008 00:06

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