ERWIN TULFO Vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES and ATTY. CARLOS T. SO, G.R. No. 161032; and the accompanying case: SUSAN CAMBRI, REY SALAO, JOCELYN BARLIZO, and PHILIP PICHAY vs. COURT OF APPEALS, PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, and CARLOS SO, G.R. No. 161176, September 16, 2008
“x x x.
The press wields enormous power. Through its widespread reach and the information it imparts, it can mold and shape thoughts and opinions of the people. It can turn the tide of public opinion for or against someone, it can build up heroes or create villains.
It is in the interest of society to have a free press, to have liberal discussion and dissemination of ideas, and to encourage people to engage in healthy debate. It is through this that society can progress and develop.
Those who would publish under the aegis of freedom of the press must also acknowledge the corollary duty to publish responsibly. To show that they have exercised their freedom responsibly, they must go beyond merely relying on unfounded rumors or shadowy anonymous sources. There must be further investigation conducted, some shred of proof found to support allegations of misconduct or even criminal activity. It is in fact too easy for journalists to destroy the reputation and honor of public officials, if they are not required to make the slightest effort to verify their accusations. Journalists are supposed to be reporters of facts, not fiction, and must be able to back up their stories with solid research. The power of the press and the corresponding duty to exercise that power judiciously cannot be understated.
But even with the need for a free press, the necessity that it be free does not mean that it be totally unfettered. It is still acknowledged that the freedom can be abused, and for the abuse of the freedom, there must be a corresponding sanction. It falls on the press to wield such enormous power responsibly. It may be a clich that the pen is mightier than the sword, but in this particular case, the lesson to be learned is that such a mighty weapon should not be wielded recklessly or thoughtlessly, but always guided by conscience and careful thought.
A robust and independently free press is doubtless one of the most effective checks on government power and abuses. Hence, it behooves government functionaries to respect the value of openness and refrain from concealing from media corruption and other anomalous practices occurring within their backyard. On the other hand, public officials also deserve respect and protection against false innuendoes and unfounded accusation of official wrongdoing from an abusive press. As it were, the law and jurisprudence on libel heavily tilt in favor of press freedom. The common but most unkind perception is that government institutions and their officers and employees are fair game to official and personal attacks and even ridicule. And the practice on the ground is just as disconcerting. Reports and accusation of official misconduct often times merit front page or primetime treatment, while defenses set up, retraction issued, or acquittal rendered get no more, if ever, perfunctory coverage. The unfairness needs no belaboring. The balm of clear conscience is sometimes not enough.
Perhaps lost in the traditional press freedom versus government impasse is the fact that a maliciously false imputation of corruption and dishonesty against a public official, as here, leaves a stigmatizing mark not only on the person but also the office to which he belongs. In the ultimate analysis, public service also unduly suffers.
X x x.”