There was this interesting manifesto by the Cebu Media Legal Aid (CEMLA) published by the three Cebu English dailies on July 4, 2007.
The media lawyers presented their stand on the recent filing by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia of a criminal complaint in Cebu City and a civil complaint in Barili town, both for libel, against broadcaster Leo Lastimosa.
The manifesto scored the governor’s act on two grounds: the filing of the complaint itself and the choice of the venue in filing the complaint.
While the lawyers did not directly say that the complaint against Lastimosa is per se a form of “harassment” and “oppression,” the lecture about it indirectly leads one to conclude that. CEMLA was, however, direct in pointing out that the filing of the two complaints in two venues “can only be viewed as a measure to harass and oppress the journalist (Lastimosa).”
I agree with CEMLA that the filing of a complaint in Barili is a form of harassment and even malicious. The governor could just have filed the two cases in Cebu City and the message would have been the same. The more important purpose of the libel charge is to disprove whatever objectionable things Lastimosa said in his radio commentaries and columns. Splitting the venue of the filing of the two cases won’t strengthen the governor’s case. What it will do is only inconvenience the target of the complaint.
But I disagree with the lawyers’ stand on the filing of the libel charge mainly because it could be misinterpreted as an attempt to shield journalists even from the mere attempt by those aggrieved by their commentaries to seek redress through the courts. Admittedly, there are libel complaints that are meant to harass. But to be able to conclude that the Garcia libel complaint is malicious, members of CEMLA necessarily should have listened to all of the commentaries and columns that prompted the filing of the case. That is what objectivity demands.
My worry has always been—and I have been consistent with this—is that media people will transform the profession into an “old boys club” that is overly protective of its own members to the extent that these members failings are glossed over. As Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility. Media cannot overly stress freedom at the expense of its responsibility to be objective and fair and of its being a purveyor of truth.
I have long complained about the visible deterioration in the quality of radio commentaries. The unfortunate thing is that local media leaders continue to gloss over the problem or worse look the other way.
—Candido O. Wenceslao, July 4, 2007