DECRIMINALIZE LIBEL?

By Ben Emata

Decriminalize libel is a very good idea but as a practicing journalist, I oppose it for some good reasons. It will definitely reduce prestige, honor, decency, image, refutation, integrity and class of the profession. It will open to widespread abuse by some practitioners, business of blackmail and malicious objectives to earn huge income at the expense of the victims. It will encourage corruption within the circle and make us in level with some dishonest politicians or becoming some of us members of the kingdom of the dogs. It will strengthen the foundation of fight within our ranks that will promote yellow journalism in our midst. It will encourage the enemies of the media to assassinate us because they will run out of resources to avenge such abuses. Many of us will die before our time comes. God forbids.

The practice of journalism is full of temptations, cheating, dirty maneuvers, tricks and the like that actually would make us vulnerable and even worse than many sinners on earth. Those who would not die early wil become richer but could not see civilization straight to the eyes because of guilt, shame and extreme dishonor. Can there be pride and honor on our faces to the public and more specially to our families?

Who can stop me if I criticize someone without mercy because somebody big and influential is funding my adventure? And because I am aware that I could not go to jail because the case of libel had been decriminalized? It is a fact many of us are insolvent and, therefore, our objects of criticisms or the person or persons we libeled could only file a civil case for damages and at the end would not recover anything. Where is equal justice if such a thing could exist in a society that advocates fair play but actually favors the malicious members of the media.

I have been a media practitioner for more than four decades not only in the Philippines where I was slapped with 52 cases of criminal libel. Absolutely, I found out that only death threat and jail sentence can frighten us. I also exercised press freedom in the state of California for straight ten years where I maintained my weekly newspaper and I was convinced that being a journalist is merely a privilege granted us in free society but beneath our wings are limitations, danger and jail time.

As media practitioners, we must walk on a straight line, be a model of everything, go straightforward, humble, obedient to the wishes of public opinions and hold on to the tenets of standard and honor. We are here to inform and to entertain the public and we must uphold that belief that we are the fourth estate after the three branches of government in a democratic society.

We must submit ourselves to punishment for blunders, wrongdoings and abuses. We are not better people than others or are we? Hypocrisy and pretension should never be part of our lives. We should instead be humble and certainly noble. We should not seek special attention and behave like we are immune from suit, untouchable of sorts or group of people in the nigher hierarchy of modern civilization.

I would even opt to professionalize or raise the standard of media practice. Everyone should take a board examination before a license to practice could be issued to a journalist. Right now everyone who is alive can get into the media and a lot do not even know what ethics of journalism is all about. This is definitely unjust to others who went to college for the purpose. And the outcome is we have a lot of people who think the objective of the profession is to demolish the honor and integrity of some people. This is embarrassing and definitely malicious.

Let us uphold dignity and lead the way towards decency and honor. We are the soul of the community and like humans, the moment the soul separates from the body, it means death. Certainly, death of press freedom, prestige, and everything that surround it. I raise my case and plead once more to stand straight with pride and humility before the eyes of everyone. Decriminalization is neither an option nor a solution. BEN EMATA Bennex News Service. (Awardee: “Most Outstanding Journalist” given by the Federation of Provincial Press Clubs of the Philippines.)

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