Admittedly, there are a few members of the press, both in print and in broadcast, who are abusing their constitutionally-guaranteed rights on free speech.
Some think that they have limitless freedom.
They are not afraid of facing any legal impediments in the course of doing their job as a journalist because they are aware that they cannot be easily indicted. Based on jurisprudence, those convicted of libel are more the exceptions rather than the rule.
In fact, even former President Corazon Aquino failed to get a conviction of those journalists who allegedly maligned her name. To think, she was the sitting president when her case was tried in court.
There are plenty of available defenses when a journalist is charged for libel. One of those is privileged communication.
Let me mention the two kinds of privileged communication. First is qualified privileged communication and second is absolute privileged communication.
Qualified privileged communication is one that can be invoked by the media. In a case decided by the Supreme Court it is defined as those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith. Proving malice and bad faith is not easy.
That’s why one cannot be easily pinned down by the complainant.
Nevertheless, as a radio station manager, with a very limited influence within my organization, I advised my subordinates not to abuse our power in using the microphone on-air.
I told them that when there are complaints, we must first verify its substance and conduct investigation to be fair to the parties before discussing such complaints over the air lane.
I emphasized that while we are not afraid of legal predicaments, we must consider preserving our credibility to maintain the trust of our listeners.
Such trust should not be broken because that is tantamount to losing our audience. If it happens, our broadcast will become useless and we become irrelevant.
I would like to share the same advice or at least a piece of suggestion to my good friend and USC law school classmate Cebu City Councilor Raymund Alvin Garcia. As a good lawyer, he is equipped with knowledge in law that could make him fearless in any legal maneuvers against him.
Garcia, being a member of a local legislative body, is very much aware that he enjoys absolute privileged communication, which is defined in a decided case as one not actionable, even if its author has acted in bad faith. This is most often invoked by members of Congress.
Garcia knows that he is immune to charges on what he says during the proceedings at the City Council. He had nothing to worry when he sponsored a resolution asking for the Human Resources development Office (HRDO) to investigate an urban poor leader, Floro Enricoso, for allegedly selling medicines owned by the city that are supposed to be given free to the people of Cebu City.
The alleged medicines are intended for the city’s Long Life Medical Assistance Program (LLMAP) of Barangay Mambaling. It is given through the Barangay Mayor’s Office (BMO).
Mr. Enricoso, on the other hand, vehemently denied the allegations. He said that it cannot happen to him because he is not a part of the program in any way and he is not even a staff of the BMO. He has no access to the medicines at all.
Both Mayor Tomas Osmeña and the HRDO have already cleared Enricoso on the matter. Enricoso, who also has a reputation to preserve being a family man and an urban poor leader, demanded for a public apology from Garcia.
Garcia, for his part, refused to apologize. He said that he was just calling for an investigation which was also approved by the council. He can very well say that he was just doing his job as a councilor.
However, when Garcia said that he would welcome any legal action that Enricoso might take and even challenge him to file one despite the fact that the latter is innocent may make him appear arrogant.
People might be afraid that they would be the next to Enricoso whose name would be dragged into the limelight without the benefit of verifying first the report.
In the foregoing scenario, Garcia has nothing to worry about on the legal aspect, but he must consider the effect of such to his credibility before the voters of Cebu City.
Except for this particular incident, in my observation, Garcia is doing well in the City Council.
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