Journalism is far too important to be left to journalists.
The practice, the craft, and the art of reporting the truth — whatever that might be — could use a little constructive criticism every now and then from people who read, watch, and perhaps even live by the news.
It also wouldn’t hurt for media workers — especially those whose salaries are as big as their egos — to partake of the occasional humble pie, if only to make them realize that the message is more important than the messenger.
Instead of wasting airtime on their self-importance, news readers could help make the world a better place by making the news more relevant, sharper, in tune with their viewers.
Same goes for reporters and editors, both in print and online.
Self-indulgence and somebody-ism especially among media workers only increase errors of both fact and news judgement.
But then again, readers and/or viewers for their part should not be content being passive receptacles of information.
If they feel that media coverage of an issue is unfair, superficial, or downright disgusting, they should send an email, write a letter, fax a note, place a phone call, or transmit a text message to respective news organizations that aired and/or published pieces that they felt were subpar.
They can even blog about coverage and treatment of issues if they wish.
These same rights can very well be invoked by any person or group of persons — public officials or private individuals — who may feel slighted news stories that may have put them in a bad light.
They can also sue for libel and demand civil and criminal restitution if they so decide.
However, a pending bill at the House of Representatives has brought this to dangerous extremes.
Under the right of reply bill (RORB), persons or entities whose reputations may have been put in a bad light through stories published and/or broadcast by any media organization will enjoy the right to have their replies published or broadcast by the same news outfit for free.
The replies will be given the same prominence and treatment accorded to the previous “unflattering” story or newscast, even if the persons and entities criticized were previously interviewed for the same subject.
If a newspaper’s banner story, citing documents, said that a public official stole millions, the newspaper is required to make the official’s reply as the banner story a few days later.
This, even if the same official was already interviewed for the same story, according to various provisions under the RORB.
Similarly, if the first gap of a news program aired a broadcast about an erring official, the news program is mandated to air the official’s reply during the first gap a few days after.
The same arrangement goes for online news Web sites.
If enacted into law, the RORB will impose “prior restraint” on journalists since it “clearly preempts and undermines the right of publishers, editors, and producers to decide on which news stories they will feature,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in its RORB primer.
“The RORB dictates what should and should not be published or broadcast by media organizations way before the latter can even decide on which issues are to be discussed,” the same primer said.
Besides being unconstitutional since it abridges press freedom, the law also contains flaws that its authors have failed to account for.
The bill’s Senate and House versions have yet to consider paid ads.
What if a well-meaning group criticizes an official and takes out an ad, either during primetime television or in the prominent pages of a newspaper? Are media organizations required to publish and broadcast the official’s replies as well?
No one knows because the proposed law — authored by Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Francis “Chiz” Escudero, and Ramon Revilla Jr. and Representatives Juan Edgardo Angara and Monico Puentevella — contains no such provision discussing the matter.
A similar scenario arises regarding coverage of Supreme Court decisions.
If the High Court issues a ruling that finds 10 public officials guilty of plunder, is each official entitled to a free reply? Or should one reply for all of them suffice?
If the RORB becomes law, how will it consider wire stories originating from Manila that may not necessarily enhance reputation of public officials? Should Bloomberg or the Associated Press be required to run the reply of an official whose fingers have been caught in the till?
These and many other concerns only serve to highlight the major flaws of the proposed legislation.
Which only goes to show that indeed, if journalism is far too important to be left to journalists, laws — proposed or otherwise — are far too valuable to be left to lawmakers.
From the Not Exactly Insignificant Information Department.
RORB has a different meaning, especially among those whose business is business reporting.
The acronym also means return on rate base, loosely defined as the percentage a company — usually a utility — can charge customers for using equipment it uses in its operations.
Meralco, the Philippines’ largest electric company, is allowed to charge up to 12 percent of the worth of its equipment (i.e., cables) from its customers.
Unfortunately, that financial formula was recently replaced by the performance-based mechanism (PBR) which will reportedly do away with the 12 percent profit cap.
And what does that mean? Higher power costs for the rest of us.
Anyway you look at it, RORB — in both the journalistic or financial sense — augurs bad tidings.