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Avoid personal attacks, judge advises media

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol July 10,2015 - 07:22 AM

To avoid being penalized for libel, a retired judge advised journalists to avoid personal attacks in their reports or commentaries.

“As the Supreme Court (SC) says, ‘You may falsely attack the policies of a man, but not the man himself,” retired Judge Simeon Dumdum said in yesterday’s Cebu Citizens-Press Council quarterly meeting held at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center.

He said that despite taking all precautions, no journalist is immune from being sued for libel.

Dumdum said the best defense is “true and fair reporting, made in good faith.”

“Those working in the media are always encouraged to espouse high ethical standards. They should be careful (in what they write or speak),” he said.

Dumdum, who served as trial judge for 15 years before he hung up his robes last December, spoke on  the topic “Writing and broadcast that invite libel.”

He discussed various Supreme Court cases on libel.

Circumstances and parties differ in each case but  the basics remain.

“What kind of writing or broadcast invite libel? For me, it’s as simple as this: Personal attacks  invite libel,” Dumdum said.

“If you say ‘this proposal is toothless,’ that’s okay. But when you say, ‘the person who made such a proposal is toothless,’ then that’s libelous,” he said in a light vein.

Dumdum encouraged journalists to do their best to get the facts right, and to be extra careful in publishing or broadcasting reports and comments.

“Headlines could be troublesome. The body of the story might be okay, but the headline is not. Also be careful in choosing pictures which ought to correspond to this particular person you’re referring to,” he said.

In the Revised Penal Code, said Dumdum,  the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a crime, vice or defect  (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.

A person found guilty of libel can be sent to jail for six months to four years on top of a fine and paymment of damages that can be awarded in a civil suit.

Columnist-broadcaster Bobby Nalzaro said he found comfort in Dumdum’s statement that only “personal attacks” are considered  libelous.

“Nigaan ang akong gibati. (I feel  relieved). I know I’m not personally attacking this politician. I was indicted for libel because of just two words. And I don’t think that will put me in jail,” said Nalzaro who was one of two panel reactors in the CCPC meeting.

Nalzaro is facing a libel case in court stemming from a complaint of former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña for writing in a column that Osmeña “fabricated charges” against Cebu City Treasurer Diwa Cuevas.

The case is pending with the Regional Trial Court  after the Cebu city prosecutor’s office said  Nalzaro “intentionally” and “maliciously” maligning Osmeña in his column published in Sun.Star Cebu on Oct. 25, 2014.

Nalzaro said that  he has faced 26 libel cases in   his media career, all of which were dismissed at the prosecutor’s level except for the current case involving Osmeña.

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TAGS: Bobby Nalzaro, Cebu, Cebu City, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, Cebu Daily News, media, nalzaro, SC, Supreme Court

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