Is there a consensus view among the community of former and sitting Supreme Court justices that journalists should not be harassed by libel suits? The answer seems to be a resounding Yes.
As recently as April 2008, former Chief Justice Panganiban stated:
“The judiciary has always been extra careful in looking after the safety, well-being and protection of news professionals. It knows that journalists are often subjected to harassment suits that are not only time-consuming but also annoying and degrading.
Even before Congress could decriminalize libel, or enact the carefully crafted “privilege” status of criticisms against public officials proposed by Justice Mendoza, the Court has gone ahead with both jurisprudence and circulars to encourage fair criticism especially of public officials, and to protect journalists from harassments.” [emphases added]
However, when it comes to public figures, Justice Panganiban explained that under 1999 court cases (he cited Vasquez), the Supreme Court had already adopted US jurisprudence dating back to 1964 and still controlling (i.e., NY Times v Sullivan).
In effect, Justice Panganiban noted that the Supreme Court has already held that (1) where the complainant is a public figure and the defamatory statement is with respect to his status or actuations as such, malice in law does not lie; and (2) to prove malice in fact, the complainant must show that the accused or defendant must either have (a) had knowledge that the defamatory statement was false, or (b) made the statement with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. (What this means is that the qualified privilege, represented by the exceptions listed in Art. 354 of the Revised Penal Code, extends also to fair comment on public figures.)
Here’s an interesting question. Is a judge or Justice a public figure? Hint: watch this video.