Monday, October 16, 2006

Is the answer removing presumption of malice?

Saying that the "present libel law is already obsolete and out of sync with reality," Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Neal Cruz wrote today in his column that the libel law should be "amended to remove the presumption of malice that runs counter to our Bill of Rights. "

He wrote:

"While the move to have the libel law decriminalized will remove the fear of landing in jail—which lurks at the back of the mind of every crusading journalist—I do not think that this is the right response to the penchant of onion-skinned public figures for harassing the press with libel suits. (FG Mike Arroyo is a public figure and, therefore, is a “public property” who cannot sue for libel, according to American jurisprudence). Decriminalizing libel will only make judges less conscience-stricken in deciding against journalists since the latter will not be going to jail anyway but will only be made to pay fines and damages. And therein lies the booby-trap. While a criminal case needs proof beyond reasonable doubt to convict, a civil case needs only a preponderance of evidence. And the judges will be more liberal in awarding damages to complainants—especially if they (the complainants) will share some of the amount with the judges. At least two newspapers in the United States went bankrupt because of generous damages awarded by civil courts to complainants.

"I think the meaningful response to libel-happy public figures is to amend the now obsolete libel law to make it conform to the Bill of Rights in our Constitution."

Read the whole column of Neal Cruz here.

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