WHY has Mike Arroyo, with seeming loss of coolant, charged 43 of his biggest media critics with libel? This is just pure speculation but...I think that after the Garci scandal over a year and half ago, the FG realized a virulent media campaign against him was gathering force and it reminded him of how he himself had worked with Big Media and many of the same people now attacking him, to bring down Erap in 2000-2001 using every trick in the book against a culpable and vulnerable target. The FG's motto? Only the Paranoid Survive. I guess he figures that even if he doesn't win the criminal cases, he will have headed off the Bum's Rush the Media had planned for him. But he may only have set up a more cataclysmic collision yet to come. Thus does familiarity breed contempt. And catastrophe.
DONG PUNO (All Purpose vs. Vortex Public Figures) does a masterful job of summarizing the central legal issues involved in the libel suits filed by First Gentleman Juan Miguel "Mike" Arroyo against some 43 editors, reporters, columnists and broadcast journalists. He was talking to lawyers of the First Gent this week, as well as Prof. Harry Roque of the UP Law School who is filing a class action suit against Mike Arroyo for "abuse of right" under the Civil Code. Reading Dong's piece, one easily catches the suggestion that the First Gentleman is at least a "vortex public figure" for having thrust himself into the cat-and-dog fight ("the vortex") over cheating during the 2004 elections. The issue is over whether the FG is a public figure or a private figure because the latter category of maligned persons can prove an accusation of libel using a lower quantum of evidence than a public figure. Read it all from Dong Puno to get the fine distinctions.
CAVEAT However, I think that there is more to the issue than this. At bottom is the eternal struggle between the Mass Media and the Government over Press Freedom and what journalists can or cannot say in the practice of their profession -- which is the incessant and persistent endeavour to discover and make bold headlines of the deepest and most embarrassing secrets held by the most powerful persons in the Republic.
Not only incessant and persistent, the Media is also self-righteous and jealously guards its Rights to do all things it deems necessary in "the Search for the Truth". The Mass Media, in one particularly radical view, may mix truths and falsehoods much as police interrogators do with criminal suspects -- to catch them in some damning or revealing lie and pry loose that elusive Truth. As long as they call it Opinion or Commentary and liberally use the word "alleged" and quote someone else who is only doing the same thing, the defenders of Press Freedom aver there is nothing unethical even in a little published white lying, all for the sake of getting at the Bigger Truth, of course.
They point to something called the Public's Right to Know as the touchstone of Press Freedom, perhaps its entire raison d'etre.
It is undoubtedly a fine, fine end, that the Public come to know about its leaders and their secrets, if any, through a Responsible Media. But what limits are there to this impressive right, this press freedom?
I think the answer is contained in the following dictum--
Therefore, Journalism cannot set itself up as a permanent Moral Inquisition. Much as it sometimes imagines itself in that role, Mass Media are NOT the official guardians of our public morals and have no primacy over the merest barbero or tricycle driver, nor better insight into such matters as imperialism, rape, chacha, election cheating or even poverty and hunger. In fact, since much of Mass Media is in the control of Filipinos, and not exposed to international media competition, I am eternally suspicious of their motives. skeptical of their methods, and aghast at how low the Media will stoop for a scoop or a sensation.
Journalists and columnists loudly demand that every person in which they take an interest -- whether he or she is a public figure or not -- must dignify with a defense any arbitrary charge or accusation just because it is made in the form of a stunning front page news headline or a niggling opinion column.
It is certainly beyond the realm of Press Freedom, and Common Sense, to expect that even public figures must incriminate themselves. Yet that seems to be part of the hand-wringing that goes on when it comes to complaints of a Chilling Effect due to the First Gentleman's libel suit barrage.
But one might ask, what chilling effect? Surely the atmosphere and the weather come with the turf. But Paranoia can be self-fulfilling, it turns out, because now the Media ARE busily sharpening their knives and battle-axes in the red-hot forges of the Presses and incandescent Broadcast Stations. He has lost the benefit of the Doubt and cannot claim any Margin of Error.
NOW, Mike should be paranoid.