Cyber libel suit vs radio anchors junked but…

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Radio anchors of Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) Iloilo secured a legal victory as the Iloilo City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the cyber libel complaint filed by a former principal of a secondary school in the Jaro district.

But the city prosecutor’s office also reminded media practitioners of the importance of adhering to ethical standards in their reporting, despite the dismissal of the charges.

The cases filed by Belinda Venus Dinopol, former principal of Jaro National High School, against RMN anchormen Novie Guazo, Regan Arlos, and Benroy Bernal were dismissed due to a lack of probable cause.

The decision, penned by Prosecutor Adri Anne Española and signed by Chief City Prosecutor Peter Baliao, was made in March 2023.

Dinopol’s complaints stemmed from media reports on the death of Jolean Valentin, a former household worker of the Dinopol family.

Dinopol argued that the reporters aired only one side of the story. However, the prosecutor’s office stated it could not make a case for libel against them, citing that the former principal was given the opportunity to air her side of the story but chose not to.

The decision pointed out that Dinopol “failed to prove” that the RMN report entertained a high degree of awareness of the probable falsity of their report.

“The reporters proved that their report about Jolean’s suicide was supported by substantial facts derived from credible informants (Valentin and Rapisat),” the decision read.

It was also noted that Dinopol’s connection to the death of Jolean was reported not with reckless disregard for its falsity, considering that the reports were based on reasonable grounds formed after the RMN reporters conducted personal interviews with Jolean’s kin and her boyfriend.

“The news reports may have been inaccurate or even false, but certainly, they were not malicious,” it added.

The decision stressed that the reporters have in their favor the privilege of the freedom of the press.

“The reporters’ sense of duty as members of the press falls under the mantle of good motives and justifiable ends. Freedom of the press and expression is a constitutionally protected right under Section 4, Article III of The Philippine Constitution.”

In finding no probable cause for the charge of cyber libel, the prosecutor’s office noted that Dinopol still has the privilege of “pursuing legal remedy to claim indemnity for her perceived unwarranted attacks on her reputation and credibility.”

In the same decision, it was ruled that there is also no probable cause for the crime of violation of Republic Act (RA) 7277 or Magna Carta for Disabled Persons as amended by RA 9442 against Arlos and Guazo.