Friday, October 19, 2007

Libelous headline?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer can be embroiled in what would appear to be a publication of a "libelous headline".
The banner headline for the Inquirer's October 18, 2007 issue stated:
"GMA present, says solon"
This headline referred to the time when cash was reportedly distributed to congressmen in a meeting in Malacanang.
The story however was that the solon, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, stated that President Arroyo was not present, when the cash was being distributed.
The word "NOT" was dropped in the headline, thereby giving the entirely opposite story.
The proper headline would have been:
"GMA not present, says solon"
But if this were the title of the story, this wouldn't have grabbed the headline, would it?
Let me analyze this before I discuss cases about media mistakes.
I believe that if a libel charge is to be instituted against the Inquirer, the persons who have direct cause of action would be President Arroyo, and /or Rep. Bienvenido Abante.
But quick to the draw, the Inquirer, immediately issued a retraction, plus correction, plus apology, plus explanation.
More importantly, the Inquirer conveniently described the foul-up as "inadvertent"
And then the Inquirer conveniently goes on to blame the reporter and the news desk---the natural scapegoats.
(Is there or isn't there such a thing as command responsibility in the newsroom? What are the responsibilities of the top-gun editors of the paper?
Anyway, with the retraction, correction, and apology, and the "inadvertence" explanation, the Inquirer immediately laid the groundwork for a legal defense agasint libel.
The offended parties here are public officials.
Therefore, under the New York Times standard, it would have to be the actual malice standard that would have to be applied in this case.
Was the Inquirer guilty of reckless disregard of whether or not the headline was true or not?
Did the Inquirer knew the truth that President Arroyo indeed, was not present during the cash distribution, but still proceeded to headline: "GMA present, solon says"?
But the Inqurier has already pre-empted everything by claiming "inadvertence", meaning negligence.
Negligence as we know, does not rise to the standard of actual malice sufficient enough to ensure an absolution to the offender.
In this case, the offended public official would have to establish clear proof that the Inquirer knew beforehand that GMA was not present, yet the Inquirer still proceeded with the headine: "GMA present, says solon"
We have very insteresting, and even funny jurisprudence about media mistakes, and "headline libel".
I will discuss them tomorrow.

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