Sunday, August 9, 2009

Free Speech is the Casualty in Punishing Willie Revillame

The Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has once again shown its penchant for curtailing free speech rights by mulling over the imposition of sanctions against Wowowee television show host Willie Revillame. Last Monday, Revillame expressed his objection to the showing of live feeds on Cory Aquino's funeral cortege during a segment of the popular noontime show. He asked for the removal of the feeds for being inappropriate and distracting.

Apparently riding on the tide of public outrage against Revillame, MTRCB Chairwoman Consoliza Laguardia said Revillame violated Presidential Decree 1986 (the law creating the MTRCB)and the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas) Code. Notice the haste and prematurity with which Laguardia has spoken; already, the MTRCB through its chairwoman pronounced its judgment even before the besieged showman was given the opportunity to defend his actions.

But not only is the MTRCB disregarding Revillame's due process rights, it is also arranging to violate his free speech rights by imposing sanctions for his conduct which, although distasteful and inappropriate, is a function of democracy. However objectionable Revillame's statement may be, the fact of the matter is there is nothing in either his conduct or statements that would justify MTRCB in imposing sanctions on him, for he was free to express how he felt about the mixing of the funeral procession with his game show.

Speech under our laws can only be regulated or punished if it passes a strict scrutiny test. Not long ago, Chavez v. Gonzalez made it abundantly clear that this test applies with equal vigor in the broadcast media - which is a dramatic departure from American jurisprudence from where we imported our concept of free speech. The Supreme Court in this case did away with the differentiation between print and broadcast media in the application of the strict scrutiny standard in content-based regulation of speech. Under this test, speech can only be regulated if it creates or is likely to create a clear and present danger of a grave and imminent evil which the government has the right to prevent. The government must show a compelling or overriding interest that would justify curtailment of speech.

There is nothing in the statement or conduct of Revillame that would even remotely suggest such clear and present danger. It may be in bad taste, but to say that the government has an overriding or compelling interest to prevent or punish such speech is downright ridiculous. Revillame's gaffe is the stuff of 24/7 news that thrive on controversy rather than of state interest.

In fact, a review of section 3 of PD 1986, which is being relied upon by MTRCB, would show that there is nothing that would make Revillame's case fall squarely. Said section enumerates the powers of the MTRCB and the instances upon which it may exercise its power to approve, disapprove or otherwise censor objectionable movie and television shows. Specifically, the section empowers MTRCB to regulate or prohibit media materials constituting sedition or rebellion, which glorifies criminals and condones crimes, solely satisfies market for violence and pornography, abets the traffic and use of prohibited drugs, are libelous or defamatory, or constitutes contempt of court. None of these instances cover Revillame's statement and conduct.

It is true that good Filipino customs dictate respect for the departed, but I find it hard to understand how requesting the removal of the coverage of a funeral procession in a game show - without a doubt out of place and timing in the show - could constitute such disrespect. If there is anyone who was disrespectful it was the director of the show, and not Revillame, for including or allowing the inclusion of the former president's funeral cortege during a merrymaking portion of the game show. Revillame may be guilty of insensitivity for proceeding with his show like it was business as usual at a time of national mourning, but his act of not allowing the mixing of a somber occasion with an entertaining game show was actually the right thing to do under the circumstances. He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust.

Former President Corazon Aquino became our beloved icon of democracy when she stood to fill the place of Ninoy after being felled by an assassin's bullet. She led the fight to restore our democracy which gave us the freedom to speak our minds. Punishing Revillame for his inappropriate statement - which is certainly not a "crass attempt to desecrate the memory" of the former president, as her family's spokesperson Lourdes Dy Sytangco characterizes it - would be a disregard of the cherished right which Ninoy and Cory fought for.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary


Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

A fine piece Jun. I agree! Willie Revillame has every right to make an utter fool of himself and ABSCBN the commercial right to make all the money from both him and Cory Aquino that they can get from broadcasting both. Together if necessary. Ninoy and Cory died for their rights!

But would you care to say something about the limits of these rights as it applies to a highly regulated public utility like broadcast television? Is free speech exactly the same as commercial broadcast entertainment and journalism?

If we are to protect Freedom of Entertainment Through Noon Time Sex Shows, as assiduously as Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Religion, are there no distinctions to be made at all?

Was the Manila Pen Romp then the equivalent of Wowwowwee?

Jun Bautista said...

There is a clear distinction between free speech, as an exercise of a political or civil right, and commercial speech - which is geared toward money-making. In the first, gov't must show a compelling or overriding interest, such as protecting security of the state or prohibiting obscenity, before it can regulate speech; in commercial speech, the gov't need only show substantial interest. In other words, there is greater freedom on the part of gov't in regulating this latter type of speech.

As to the medium, speech as an exercise of a political right respects no distinctions. Whether the medium be print or broadcast, the same strict scrutiny standard applies. While the show Wowowee clearly falls under the domain of commercial speech, Willie's statements in regard to Cory's funeral procession is an expression of an opinion regarding an event of national importance. Admittedly there is a fine line distinguishing the two. Thank you for bringing up this issue Dean.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Perhaps we should examine things a little more carefully because you have indeed mentioned a key distinction: between pure free speech as political and civil right and that of commercial speech, such as Wowowee and all of the mainstream commercial media. I guess there is the further distinction between print and broadcast that is most significant with respect to the subset of free speech called press freedom.

Here the MTRCB and the franchise laws that grant TV broadcasters their right to sell speech clearly LIMIT freedom of speech in a myriad ways.

I think that all speech that falls into "Commercial Press Freedom" falls into a lower class of free speech than, well, FREE SPEECH. Such speech must be treated and delimited by the rights and duties that apply to commerce.

If anything Willie has been the exponent of BAD TASTE throughout his career. I blame ABSCBN for having him at all (for obvious reasons of greed.)

baycas2 said...

I saw it here.

There is also freedom to object to or protest “objectionable” free speech.

None of this should’ve happened if only he veered from his “kayabangan” and didn’t act as if to glorify his intent. Such bad taste with danger of being emulated by viewers.

He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust. (Your words.)

I think admonition is required. But, just the same, admonition is still a form of punishment.


MTRCB angst?

While Willie’s case is timely…perhaps you may cry the loudest here…[it’s resolution here (in the comments thread).].

Jun Bautista said...

There is no argument that commercial
speech belongs to a lower class than speech as an exercise of a civil right; as I have mentioned, commercial
speech is susceptible to more regulation since a strict standard is not required for the regulation to pass constitutional muster. We must understand, however, that speech made in a commercial program like wowowee is no less an exercise of a civil right than one made in a public plaza. If Willie or Joey De Leon, for example, makes
a commentary about GMA's conduct during the wowowee or eat bulaga show, respectively, what standard do we apply? strict standard or a lesser standard because made in a commercial program? Commercial speech is speech
about selling, promoting or advertising a particular product or service for profit.

As to medium, whether speech other than commercial is made on the streets, on print or broadcast, the law (Phil law, at least) makes no distinction as to the standard of regulation to apply, which is strict scrutiny or the clear and present danger doctrine. This, of course, applies to content-based regulations.

Jun Bautista said...

Thank you for sharing that interesting article about the "lukayo." I hope the case reaches the courts so we can enrich our jurisprudence on obscenity, which is thin, for our future guidance and understanding. Yes offensive speech is subject to regulation, but case law defines what is objectionable speech, such as obscenity. Our concept of obscenity is imported from the US, which defines it as something that depicts sex in a patently offensive manner, appeals to the prurient interest in sex, with no literary, scientific or educational value. To be sure, the lukayo case will revolve on the issue of whether the show constitutes obscenity.

blackshama said...

A Revolution is the only way to axe people like Revillame and ABS-CBN. When the Revolution comes, they will sent to a re-education camp and he can sing "Boom tarat tarat etc" as long as they want!

BTW, all revolutions are extra legal!

angbaho said...

Related to the article posted by Mr. Jun Bautista regarding Freedom of Speech been supressed in relation to Mr. Willie Revillame requesting to remove the segment of live telecast of President Cory's funeral, it seems that you don't get the full scenario why people are reacting to his Mr. Revillame's doings. You are very right that anyone can say whatever he says but primarily it is shown in the television wherein many are watching...It is not merely of showing his sentiments towards the insertion on Wowowee but the way it has been requested. Can't you see all those views that they see the point of Mr. Revillame but disagreeing on how he delivers the request. You post this one but come to think of it that you also have children who might see this action. Let us change the scenario, Hayden Kho and Katrina Halili's is a big scoop in the televion and should be shown if he feels that he should do it following this freedom of expression, freedom of speech etc. There are some limitations that people should respect. Mr. Revillame did not see his limitations.....blurting out sarcasm in his show with his staff, with that live telecast of Pres. Cory's burial ceremony, half-naked girls dancing, man doing sexy dances with the ASF dancers. Do you think it is good for all the people of the Philippines to see those stuff. What is the use of MTRCB. Do you think that MTRCB will allow Mr. Revillame curse many people to be seen by the whole world being so expressive that whatever comes to his mind should be done as needed. What the people are trying to point out is the manner, ethics and respect. Please understand this. Don't be narrow- minded. Mr. Revillame is reprimanded not only on that point but merely his erratic behavior. Nobody's perfect but at least try to be perfect. I am quoting this one for you....TOO MUCH FREEDOM WILL LEAD TO REBELLION. Give too much freedom to the people and people are abusing that freedom.

Jun Bautista said...

Hi "angbaho,"

Thank you for your comment. Actually, we have no disagreement with the point you made. I have clearly pointed out that freedom of expression has limitations under the following statement:

"Speech under our laws can only be regulated or punished if it passes a strict scrutiny test. . . Under this test, speech can only be regulated if it creates or is likely to create a clear and present danger of a grave and imminent evil which the government has the right to prevent."

Thus, any speech that incites lawless action, speech which is categorized as "fighting words" (abusive words that invite retaliation), defamatory words or obscenity, is not protected speech and is subject to control by the government, such as the MTRCB (here is the function of MTRCB).

You will also notice under the following statements in my article that I disagreed with the manner by which Willie expressed his sentiment:

"Revillame may be guilty of insensitivity for proceeding with his show like it was business as usual at a time of national mourning, but his act of not allowing the mixing of a somber occasion with an entertaining game show was actually the right thing to do under the circumstances. He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust."

baycas2 said...

2007 Broadcast Code of the Philippines

Sec. 4. Performers in programs shall always observe decency and proper decorum. (S)

[S for Serious Offense]


Did Mr. Revillame exhibit proper decorum when he aired his grievance on-cam and in front of a live audience?

While it is true that he has a valid point and may prove to be a correct one, the manner he displayed his anger was objectionable and very much uncalled for.

I certainly beg to disagree to what Ms. Vidanes wrote in her letter in defense of Mr. Revillame.


Maganda ang mga isinasaad sa “acronym” na KBP BRODKASTER. Isa lang sa mga mahahalagang titik and letrang “P.”

PANANAGUTAN sa madlang tagapakinig at manonood ang pasan ng brodkaster. Maingat at may pagpapahalaga siya sa bawat salitang binibigkas at imaheng ipinalalabas. Serbisyo publiko ang pangunahin niyang layunin.