Author Topic: Retrospective: How “right of reply” differs from “right to reply”  (Read 10792 times)

Joe Carillo

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The following observation on journalistic usage was e-mailed to me almost four years ago by reader SL Monsanto: “I have always wondered which is the correct way to put it: ‘the right to reply’ or ‘the right of reply.’ The latter sounds quite awkward to many of us, yet journalists have no problem with that expression. Please comment.”

My reply to SL Monsanto:

Both “right to reply” and  “right of reply” are grammatically and semantically correct phrasing, and I think the latter sounds awkward to you only because you’ve been conditioned to think so. In fact, other people—lawyers in particular—would likely contend that it’s actually the former, “right to reply,” that’s awkward if not downright wrong usage. And even if many Filipino journalists appear comfortable in interchangeably using “right to reply” and “right of reply,” I think they are often contextually wrong when they do so.

The phrase “right to reply” is, of course, the generic expression for the natural impulse or prerogative of anyone to respond to whatever question or claim is made that pertains to him or her. For instance, if someone frontally accuses a public official of being dishonest and corrupt, that official obviously has the right to indignantly reply that the accusation is false even if there’s a strong basis for it. The right to reply is simply a personal right—call it a human right if you will—with no legal niceties inherent in the phrase.

In contrast, “right of reply” is a right founded on law or custom. It’s a constitutional or legal guarantee—and, in some countries, an editorial policy of a news publication or academic journal—that allows anyone to defend himself or herself against public criticism in the same venue where that public criticism was published or aired. The right of reply is the highly contentious area of media law that the Philippines is still grappling with in the stalled Congressional legislation for the Freedom of Information Act or FOI.*


Given this big difference in sense between “right of reply” and “right to reply,” I think the real problem is that Philippine media appear to be totally oblivious of the semantic problem in using those phrases interchangeably. Indeed, it’s disturbing that in one newspaper, the headline was “Media Opposes Right To Reply” and the lead sentence was as follows (italicization here and in later quotes mine): “Media and the academe opposed yesterday a bill on the right to reply which they feared might be used in exchange for the passage of a measure decriminalizing libel.”

Another newspaper correctly used the phrase in its headline, “Authors nix right of reply in FOI bill,” and in the news story’s lead sentence, “Authors of the freedom of information (FOI) bill will not accept any proposal that would incorporate the right of reply (ROR) into their measure . . . ” But then in an inexplicable about-face in usage, it later reported that “The proposed right to reply provision, meanwhile, would require a newspaper, or broadcast station to allot the same amount of space or air time for the reply of a person as that used in a news report that may have pictured him in a bad light.”

A third newspaper used the wrong phrase in its headline, “House minority bloc to support FOI bill with ‘right to reply’ provision.” The lead sentence of the report used the correct phrase, “The House minority bloc will only support a Freedom of Information Bill that has the right of reply provision,” and once more later in the story, but then quoted verbatim a legislator incorrectly using “right to reply” three times.

Given this messy state of usage, there ought to be a concord of sorts for consistently using the phrase “right of reply” in the context of the Freedom of Information Act. (2013)

This essay, 826th of a series first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the January 26, 2013 issue of The Manila Times, © 2013 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
*On July 23, 2016 or a little over six months after this essay was published, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 2, s. 2016, also known as the Freedom of Information Order, which operationalized in the executive branch the people’s constitutional right to information and the state policies to full public disclosure and transparency in the public service and providing guidelines for the purpose. This executive order is distinct and different from the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, a measure that had remained pending in both the previous as well as in the current Philippine Congress. That measure aims to mandate the disclosure of public documents, outlines the exceptions for public disclosure and the procedures for accessing public documents, and proposes the right of reply provision that would require a newspaper or broadcast station to allot the same amount of space or air time for the reply of a person as that used in a news report that may have pictured him in a bad light. The Freedom of Information Order signed by President Duterte does not cover or provide for this right of reply.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 07:51:52 AM by Joe Carillo »