Thursday, February 20, 2014

The author or editor of a book or pamphlet, or the editor or business manager of a daily newspaper, magazine or serial publication, shall be responsible for the defamations contained therein to the same extent as if he were the author thereof. - G.R. No. 161032

See - G.R. No. 161032

"x x x.

Having discussed the issue of qualified privileged communication and the matter of the identity of the person referred to in the subject articles, there remains the petition of the editors and president ofRemate, the paper on which the subject articles appeared.

In sum, petitioners Cambri, Salao, Barlizo, and Pichay all claim that they had no participation in the editing or writing of the subject articles, and are thus not liable. 

The argument must fail.

The language of Art. 360 of the RPC is plain.  It lists the persons responsible for libel:
            Art. 360. Persons responsible.—Any person who shall publish, exhibit, or cause the publication or exhibition of any defamation in writing or by similar means, shall be responsible for the same.

            The author or editor of a book or pamphlet, or the editor or business manager of a daily newspaper, magazine or serial publication, shall be responsible for the defamations contained therein to the same extent as if he were the author thereof.

The claim that they had no participation does not shield them from liability.  The provision in the RPC does not provide absence of participation as a defense, but rather plainly and specifically states the responsibility of those involved in publishing newspapers and other periodicals.  It is not a matter of whether or not they conspired in preparing and publishing the subject articles, because the law simply so states that they are liable as they were the author.

Neither the publisher nor the editors can disclaim liability for libelous articles that appear on their paper by simply saying they had no participation in the preparation of the same.  They cannot say that Tulfo was all alone in the publication of Remate, on which the subject articles appeared, when they themselves clearly hold positions of authority in the newspaper, or in the case of Pichay, as the president in the publishing company.

As Tulfo cannot simply say that he is not liable because he did not fulfill his responsibility as a journalist, the other petitioners cannot simply say that they are not liable because they did not fulfill their responsibilities as editors and publishers.  An editor or manager of a newspaper, who has active charge and control of its management, conduct, and policy, generally is held to be equally liable with the owner for the publication therein of a libelous article.[40]  On the theory that it is the duty of the editor or manager to know and control the contents of the paper,[41] it is held that said person cannot evade responsibility by abandoning the duties to employees,[42] so that it is immaterial whether or not the editor or manager knew the contents of the publication.[43]  In Fermin v. People of the Philippines,[44]  the Court held that the publisher could not escape liability by claiming lack of participation in the preparation and publication of a libelous article.  The Court cited U.S. v. Ocampo, stating the rationale for holding the persons enumerated in Art. 360 of the RPC criminally liable, and it is worth reiterating:

According to the legal doctrines and jurisprudence of the United States, the printer of a publication containing libelous matter is liable for the same by reason of his direct connection therewith and his cognizance of the contents thereof.  With regard to a publication in which a libel is printed, not only is the publisher but also all other persons who in any way participate in or have any connection with its publication are liable as publishers.

x x x x

In the case of State vs. Mason (26 L.R.A., 779; 26 Oreg., 273, 46 Am. St. Rep., 629), the question of the responsibility of the manager or proprietor of a newspaper was discussed.  The court said, among other things (pp. 782, 783):

“The question then recurs as to whether the manager or proprietor of a newspaper can escape criminal responsibility solely on the ground that the libelous article was published without his knowledge or consent.  When a libel is published in a newspaper, such fact alone is sufficient evidence prima facie to charge the manager or proprietor with the guilt of its publication.

“The manager and proprietor of a newspaper, we think ought to be held prima facie criminally for whatever appears in his paper; and it should be no defense that the publication was made without his knowledge or consent, x x x.

“One who furnishes the means for carrying on the publication of a newspaper and entrusts its management to servants or employees whom he selects and controls may be said to cause to be published what actually appears, and should be held responsible therefore, whether he was individually concerned in the publication or not, x x x.  Criminal responsibility for the acts of an agent or servant in the course of his employment necessarily implies some degree of guilt or delinquency on the part of the publisher; x x x.

“We think, therefore, the mere fact that the libelous article was published in the newspaper without the knowledge or consent of its proprietor or manager is no defense to a criminal prosecution against such proprietor or manager.”

In the case of Commonwealth vs. Morgan (107 Mass., 197), this same question was considered and the court held that in the criminal prosecution of a publisher of a newspaper in which a libel appears, he is prima facie presumed to have published the libel, and that the exclusion of an offer by the defendant to prove that he never saw the libel and was not aware of its publication until it was pointed out to him and that an apology and retraction were afterwards published in the same paper, gave him no ground for exception.  In this same case, Mr. Justice Colt, speaking for the court, said:

“It is the duty of the proprietor of a public paper, which may be used for the publication of improper communications, to use reasonable caution in the conduct of his business that no libels be published.”  (Wharton’s Criminal Law, secs. 1627, 1649; 1 Bishop’s Criminal Law, secs. 219, 221; People vs. Wilson, 64 Ill., 195; Commonwealth vs. Damon, 136 Mass., 441.)

The above doctrine is also the doctrine established by the English courts.  In the case of Rex vs. Walter (3 Esp., 21) Lord Kenyon said that he was “clearly of the opinion that the proprietor of a newspaper was answerable criminally as well as civilly for the acts of his servants or agents for misconduct in the management of the paper.”

This was also the opinion of Lord Hale, Mr. Justice Powell, and Mr. Justice Foster.

Lofft, an English author, in his work on Libel and Slander, said:

“An information for libel will lie against the publisher of a papers, although he did not know of its being put into the paper and stopped the sale as soon as he discovered it.”

In the case of People vs. Clay (86 Ill., 147) the court held that –

“A person who makes a defamatory statement to the agent of a newspaper for publication, is liable both civilly and criminally, and his liability is shared by the agent and all others who aid in publishing it.”[45]

Under Art. 360 of the RPC, as Tulfo, the author of the subject articles, has been found guilty of libel, so too must Cambri, Salao, Barlizo, and Pichay.

Though we find petitioners guilty of the crime charged, the punishment must still be tempered with justice.  Petitioners are to be punished for libel for the first time.  They did not apply for probation to avoid service of sentence possibly in the belief that they have not committed any crime. In Buatis, Jr. v. People,[46] the Court, in a criminal case for libel, removed the penalty of imprisonment and instead imposed a fine as penalty.   In Sazon v. Court of Appeals,[47] the accused was merely fined in lieu of the original penalty of imprisonment and fine.  Freedom of expression as well as freedom of the press may not be unrestrained, but neither must it be reined in too harshly.  In light of this, considering the necessity of a free press balanced with the necessity of a responsible press, the penalty of a fine of PhP 6,000 for each count of libel, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, should suffice.[48]  Lastly, the responsibilities of the members of the press notwithstanding, the difficulties and hazards they encounter in their line of work must also be taken into consideration.
x x x."