Mass Com 422: ETHICS OF THE MASS MEDIA
Reading No. 3
LIMITATIONS ON THE FREEDOM OF MASS MEDIA
LIMITATIONS IN GENERAL
Social ends preferred to free discussion in case of conflict introduce limitations to the liberty of discussion. There are limitations beyond which the freedom of the press ceases to serve public purposes and instead produces public or private harm. In these cases, restriction is deemed valid. The government steps in with restraints and penalties, justifying its interference not by logic or theory but by physical necessity. It hearkens to the experience of mankind as to the effects of certain kinds of publication; and where the evil seems to outweigh the good resulting, it can legitimately prohibit and punish, as it does in fact.
Social retribution through
the legal machinery falls upon persons responsible when the publication
in question is held by competent authority to be injurious (1) to the public
order or security, (2) to the public morals, (3) to private reputation
and the right of privacy, or (4) to the integrity or efficiency of public
bodies like Congress and the courts. We shall briefly examine the
extent to which each of these social ends limits the freedom of the press.
There is one main source of restrictions on which the right of the citizens to freely discuss questions in print, which is seldom within the power of the law to correct. The peculiarities of our economic system allows a minority of private persons almost unlimited discretion in determining newspaper policies. Newspapers require the use of much capital; and to all practical intent, it is inevitable in our society that control over the papers be in the hands of big business.
But press freedom is not thereby made illusory. There are circumstances which in practice limit then discretion of publishers and which affect to a great degree the free play of opinions on public questions. Diversity of ownership even in a single newspaper, the need for popular patronage, conflicting interests of powerful advertisers, the presence of respected and independent columnists, and competition among newspapers themselves all combine to bring about general fairness and accuracy of reports as well as adequate representation of opposing views.
Nevertheless, it is futile to deny the limiting power which big business has over the opportunity of private persons to put forth their views in print. As owner, it could and does refuse publicity to opinions it does not like; and as advertiser, it could pressure and sometimes successfully, for the exclusion of views it does not share. Whatever be the decision, he discretion is complete. Our laws do not afford remedy to one whose opinions have been denied publicly.
In the end, the fairness
and impartiality of the press is a responsibility of the public. As in
government, a people gets what media it deserves. It is after all
the main consumer of publications and it is hoped that whatever it has
the intelligence to digest and the wisdom to demand, it will get in the
long run. Newspapers are in business and will mend their bad habits
should the public threaten withdrawal of patronage unless they do.
NATIONAL SECURITY AND
Inciting to war
It is wholly possible for the mass media, through inflammatory and provocative articles or other publications to give occasion for war involving the Philippines, or give occasion for reprisals against Filipinos living abroad.
REVISED PENAL CODE
Art. 118. Inciting to war or giving motives of reprisals – The penalty of reclusion temporal shall be imposed upon any public officer or employee, and that of prision mayor upon any private individual, who, by unlawful or unauthorized acts provokes or gives occasion for a war involving or liable to involve the Philippine Islands or exposes Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property
Mass media are liable to criminal prosecution if they incite others to the execution of any act of rebellion or open hostility to the government.
REVISED PENAL CODE
Art. 139. Sedition – How committed – The crime of sedition is committed by persons who publicly and tumultuously in order to attain by force, intimidation, or by other means outside of legal methods, any of the following object:
A vital question arises in the enforcement of these provisions. When is an article critical of the government or of its officers merely expressive of an opinion and therefore not a reason for punishment? When is there incitement to disorder or violence, and when in contrast is there mere discussion? The lines between forbidden and permissible publications are difficult to draw and so far no thoroughly satisfactory test has been devised.
In the United States, the view prevails that if the words complained of are to be properly the basis of penalty, they must be used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the government has a right to prevent. Thus rules Justice Holmes and so the US courts still hold. In order that publication can be considered seditious under the clear and present danger rule, it must be of such a nature that by its circulation, there is danger of a public uprising and that such danger must be clear and imminent.
Lately, though, there has
been a modification of this test. If the danger resulting from the publication
is clear and probable according to circumstances brought before the court
for its consideration, the defendant would be liable. Imminence of
the danger feared seems not to be strictly required.
Dangerous tendency doctrine
In the Philippines, a much
looser test prevails. Our Supreme Court had decided preference for the
bad or dangerous tendency doctrine. Under this test, it is not required
that the danger of public uprising arising from the publication be clear
and present, or, as modified, clear and probable. The words of the
statute itself suggests the degree of imminence required. If the language
used tends to incite people to take up arms against the constituted authorities
and to rise against the established government, if it incites or produces
a feeling incompatible with a disposition to remain loyal to the government
and obedient to the laws, or if it tends to overthrow or undermine the
security of the government, or to weaken the confidence of the people in
the government, liability attaches and the editor or the author will be
punished. Conviction then is easier under this test than under the
The security or safety of the State from foreign conquest also requires limitations on press freedom. Publication of materials like blueprints depicting installations classified as top secret by the President of the Philippines pursuant to law, is heavily punished, unless prior to publication, permission has been given, or censorship of the material published has been made by proper authority.
During wartime, certain acts
committed through publications may be disloyal and are therefore punished.
Penalized are (1) false statements or reports with the intent to interfere
with the operation or success of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; (2)
publications which cause or attempt to cause insubordination and other
forms of disloyalty among members of the Armed Forces with the intent to
promote the success of the enemies of the Republic; and (3) publications
which willfully obstruct the recruiting of enlistment in the Armed Forces
to the prejudice of the service.
Acts against state interest
Also penalized are publications which cause damage to the interest or credit of the State, or which endanger public order, or which foments disobedience or resistance to the law or to the civil authorities.
REVISED PENAL CODE:
.Art. 154. Unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances – The penalty of arresto mayor and a fine ranging from 200 to 1,000 pesos shall be imposed upon: