Davao media group calls Nograles a bully

Jun. 22, 2009

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY- Davao journalists called House Speaker Prospero Nograles a bully when he threatened one local TV station of libel after the network reported that militant groups threw tomatoes in front of his office.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao (NUJP-Davao) said Nograles is making an excuse to pass the Right of Reply Bill which media groups consider dangerous to press freedom.

Speaker Prospero Nograles has unmasked himself as a bully, said Jeffrey Tupas, secretary-general of NUJP-Davao. He had no qualms about brandishing the power of his high office to threaten journalists.

NUJP-Davao issued the statement after Nograles threatened to file a libel case against ABS-CBN Davao for reporting on the tomato- throwing by militant groups in front of his office on Wednesday. As part of the nationwide protest against Charter Change, the activists threw rotten tomatoes outside Nograles office along Quirino Avenue to symbolize their outrage against House Resolution 1109 which convenes the Congress into a Constitutional Assembly to change the Constitution. Nograles is among the pro-administration congressmen strongly pushing for the bill.

But Nograles called the ABS-CBN report utterly false and unfair. He said the video footage only showed protesters throwing tomatoes on the street and not at his office.

Tupas said there was nothing twisted in the TV networks report.

Photos of the incident were printed in the newspapers and uploaded in the online media.

John Birondo, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), confirmed that militant multi-sectoral groups threw rotten tomatoes outside Nograles office to symbolize their disgust at the rottenness of the system. Amidst the financial crisis, President Arroyo is insisting on Charter change, Birondo said.

Nograles said he has the right to reply against the TV networks report he considered false. Nograles is among the lawmakers pushing for the passage of the Right of Reply Bill still pending in Congress, which will allow politicians like him to print or air the reply in the same space, and with the same prominence, in the media outlets that publish or air criticisms against them.

But media groups criticize the bill because it will give unconditional authority to politicians like Nograles to publish or air their own spin of events. NUJP-Davao said the bill casts a chilling effect on the media.

Nograles wanted the TV network to retract its report.

Tupas said Nograles is only making an excuse to pass the Right of Reply Bill.

The bill is a measure so onerous, Tupas said, It is anathema to the freedom of the press and of free expression.

Leading media groups and outfits have called the bill an act of terrorism against the independent Philippine press.

Tupas also raised the possibility that Nograles may force the passing of the Right of Reply Bill in the pro-Arroyo Congress, just like what he did with the House Resolution 1109.

Nograles may again wield the power and influence of his office to railroad the Right of Reply Bill, he said. This was what he did with House Resolution 1109.

Tupas said Nograles show his true colors. He said people like Nograles only wanted the media to air or publish their self -serving version of events and to muzzle the press.

Earlier, Nograles filed a libel case against Davao broadcaster Alexander Lex Adonis for a burlesque king expos in 2001. Adonis spent two years in jail. Local and international media condemned the act as an attack to press freedom. They also said that the criminal libel laws in the Philippines are used to harass the media.

Birondo said there is nothing wrong with the report as long as it is true. He said they throw the tomatoes to express their anger. He also said Nograles libel threat against ABS-CBN Davao is just a way of diverting the peoples attention away from Charter change.

Nograles and the President should be ashamed because Chacha has no support from the people, he said.

Davao councilor Mabel Sunga-Acosta, a former TV broadcaster, said the tomato-throwing by militant groups was an exercise of their freedom of expression. Yan ang sentimento ng publiko. Hindi mo mapipigilan yan. (That is the sentiment of the people. You cannot stop it), she said.

As long as the report is factual, it does not constitute libel, she said. Isinisiwalat lang kung ano ang nakuha ng camera nyo (You only show what your camera has captured), she said.

In a Sunstar report, Councilor Peter Lavina said public officials should not be onion-skinned and Councilor Karlo Bello said one should resign if he cannot take criticisms lightly.

Tupas said the media has the responsibility to report the news to the people thats why, he said, the Davao media group is not cowed by threats from Nograles. He said lawmakers should also do the same.

We will not be cowed, Tupas said, Neither by brute force nor by abuse of power. We are accountable, not to Nograles, but to the people, Tupas said. (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)

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