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Comelec says 'right to reply' demands will undergo long process

(Updated 7:31 p.m.) In the face of fierce media opposition, the Comelec has issued assurances that it will not act hastily on candidates' demands for media space and airtime under the new "right to reply" rule issued by the poll body. “Please do not think na may sanction na agad 'yan,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Thursday. “Wala. Mahaba-haba ang proseso dyan. And certainly, there is a lot of legal room for the parties to explain both sides.” He was referring to Resolution No. 9615, which states that “(a)ll parties and bona fide candidates shall have the right to reply to charges published or aired against them.” The resolution said that “(t)he reply shall be given publicity by the newspaper, television, and/or radio station which first printed or aired the charges with the same prominence or in the same page or section, or in the same time slot as the first statement.” The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) on Thursday branded the new rule "unconstitutional," saying in a letter to the Comelec that "it impinges on the editorial prerogative of the media.” The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has denounced the new rule as a way for candidates to gain media exposure without using up alloted advertising airtime. And it would be free since their replies would be aired on the news. Media to respond to complaints in 24 hours Under the rule, the Comelec is tasked to inform the media outlet of a candidate’s complaint within 24 hours. The media entity will then have to send a report to the Comelec within 24 hours on the actions taken on the complaint. Jimenez said the Comelec would be careful in imposing the rule, adding that both the candidate and the media will be allowed to give their accounts. “There has to be a lot of finesse in handling this. Syempre lahat ng parties na involved, may kani-kanilang requirements sa trabaho nila,” he said. Jimenez said the public should not close their doors on the rule as the Comelec would settle each complaint on a case-to-case basis. “At this point, I think it would be premature to say specifically kung ano ‘yung hindi mako-cover or hindi na kailangang i-reklamo. But then again, we can handle that on a case-to-case basis rather than shutting doors at the very beginning na wala pang nagrereklamo,” he said. Jimenez added that the media should then ensure that it is fair and accurate in its reporting. "On the other hand, if it’s a very clear case na talagang biased ‘yung reporting at talagang ini-ignore ‘yung side nung isa, then whether or not the newsroom complains, that’s the newsroom’s problem. They should have not been biased in the first place,” he said. Asked if the period spent for the right of reply will be included in the airtime limit, Jimenez said only television appearances that are not “incidental” to news reports will be regarded as the prescribed airtime. “Advertising airtime is literally that, advertising. If you’re using airtime to advertise yourself then it might be counted against you. But if your appearance on news is incident to news, especially if you are the subject of the news, then probably that would not be counted,” Jimenez said. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility deputy director Luis Teodoro has expressed alarm about the Comelec’s new rule, saying the right to reply may only add to the airtime of candidates despite the imposed limit. Under Resolution No. 9615, the Comelec has cut the total airtime for candidates for this year’s elections. National candidates are given 120 minutes of television and 180 minutes of radio airtime, while local bets are given 60 minutes for television and 90 minutes for radio. Also for the first time, the Comelec had imposed an aggregate airtime in place of “per station basis” – meaning the prescribed period will apply “whether appearing on national, regional, or local, free or cable television.” The campaign period for national candidates will start from February 12 to May 11, while for local bets from March 30 to May 11. Media fears GMA Network Inc. on Wednesday filed a letter-motion for reconsideration on the new Comelec right to reply rule, arguing that candidates are likely to "hurl various charges and accusations against each other" and insist on the provision to reply to their opponents. GMA asked that it be given leeway by the commission to determine on its own which matters are newsworthy. "Dapat maliwanagan ang mga issues na ito bago papasok sa campaign period," said GMA legal consultant Pacifico Agabin in a report on GMA's "24 Oras." "Otherwise, papasok tayo sa campaign period na hindi natin alam kung anong gagawin natin at hindi natin maintindihan kung bakit sumobra itong rules na pinalabas ng Comelec." “What is ethically required of media is balanced and fair reporting,” KBP wrote in its letter signed by KBP president Herman Basbaño, chairman Ruperto Nicdao Jr. and legal counsel Atty. Rudolph Jularbal. CMFR’s Teodoro likewise said the right of reply rule is unnecessary since based on their studies, the media generally covers the elections by getting all sides. “It’s part of the professional standards of the media. Most of the time, the other side is given space or airtime. So it’s really unnecessary,” Teodoro had said in a phone interview. The right to reply rule is not new in the Philippines. A right of reply bill had been filed in the 14th Congress last 2009, which seeks to give a person criticized on a news medium a right to reply to the accusations with the same space free of charge. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab/KBK/HS, GMA News