Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gov't documentary 'Kataksilan' is libelous

Gov't documentary 'Kataksilan' is libelous
First posted 01:57am (Mla time) Mar 17, 2006
By Neal H. Cruz

THE administration keeps saying that there should be "balance" in all media news reports, yet it is the one guilty of "unbalanced" reporting in its documentary "Paglaban sa Kataksilan 1017," which is being shown on all three government television networks (Channels 4, 9 and 13). Compact discs of the same documentary are being distributed all over the country.

I watched the docu twice, and I wondered why a government preaching "balance" in media would produce such a one-sided show. If it were produced or shown by a private media organization, it would be liable for libel, for it libels many prominent personalities, soldiers and civilians alike, accusing them of being coup plotters and subversives.

The docu narrates the alleged "conspiracy" among communists, soldiers and opposition politicians to topple President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and take over the government. Many prominent personalities were shown and named as among the "conspirators" but they were not allowed to give their side. Everything aired was the side of the administration. In law, this is a clear indication of malice, which is the most important element in the crime of libel.

Among journalists, "balance" is ingrained in their subconscious. It is a reflex action of any reporter or editor to look for the other side. If a reporter fails to do so, the editor tells him to get "the other side" of the story or his story is no good. "Balance" or reporting the other side is written in all the codes of ethics of journalists, so it is not necessary for anybody, least of all the government, to tell them that. Rather, it should tell that to government propagandists, such as those who made "Paglaban sa Kataksilan 1017." For the other side could easily make another docu, titled "Paglaban sa Kasinungalingan."

Since pro-government personalities are libel-happy anyway, the "Batasan 5" may as well give them a dose of their own medicine and file libel charges against the Malacañang propaganda arm and the three government channels for showing the docu.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. is justified in complaining that he has been libeled by being labeled as an "enemy of the state" in the docu. From a person who held the microphone for Ms Arroyo while she took her oath of office as President at Edsa in 2001 to an "enemy of the State" is indeed a big comedown.

Enemy of the State? Not me, said Pimentel. "If there is an enemy of the State in this country, it is none other than that lady who is pretending to be the president of this country in Malacañang. She is the enemy of the State."

* * *

As if that were not enough, and the recall of Proclamation 1017 notwithstanding, Malacañang keeps threatening journalists with arrests and prosecution. In the latest threat, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye warned that "journalists would not be accorded any special treatment in the crackdown against those suspected to be engaged in destabilization."

As if journalists were expecting any special treatment! The Arroyo administration has already shown that it is worse than the Marcos martial law regime in trying to repress not only media but also the whole citizenry. So what special treatment can we journalists expect from it?

Nevertheless, I don't think the threats scare any journalist. To be arrested by this administration for telling the truth is a "badge of honor." And history will judge the actions of both the journalists and the administration that persecutes them.

And here's another contradiction: In still another threat intended to scare journalists, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said that he was investigating the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for violation of the anti-wiretapping law by posting on its website the "Hello, Garci" tapes purporting to show that fraud marked the May 2004 presidential election. (Why is the administration so touchy about the "Hello, Garci" tapes? Why is it so afraid of them?)

But as the PCIJ pointed out, the same tapes had been played in Congress and by Bunye himself in Malacañang. So how can publishing it in its website be a violation of the law? Isn't that only factual reporting?

Sen. Ralph Recto cited still another contradiction: "To a large extent, this government rode on the coattails of the [PCIJ] exposés on the alleged Erap [Joseph Estrada] mansions," he said, referring to the series of PCIJ stories about the lifestyles of deposed President Erap and his mistresses. "Those in the opposition then were applauding the PCIJ's sleuthing. But now that they're in power, they would like to put in prison the very same people they once put on the pedestal."

The Arroyo administration is a beneficiary of the PCIJ's "intrepid reporting," Recto added. "But when the same journalistic standards that the PCIJ had adhered to through the years were used in scrutinizing the new government, those with new-found powers abhorred the exercise of a right they not long ago extolled."

Recto said that during Estrada's time, Estrada would merely throw a tantrum every time the PCIJ came out with an investigative story unflattering to his administration. "But [the Arroyo] administration wants to throw the whole PCIJ staff in jail," he said.

* * *

TODAY'S JOKE: Lawyer to witness: "Is it true you accepted a bribe of P1 million?"

Witness does not answer.

Judge: "Please answer the question."

Witness: "Ay, sorry, judge. I thought he was asking you."

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