NEWS articles on the planned courses of action of the “Wowowee” tragedy victims the past few weeks have become sources of misinformation because of erroneous reporting and improper use of legal terms.

In the days after the incident, major news dailies ran stories on the victims’ plan to file a “class” suit for damages against ABS-CBN and its officers. A major news daily even used the term “class suit” in its banner headline.

To set the record straight, a class suit, as explained by the Supreme Court in the Doña Paz tragedy case, involves the enforcement of a right which is joint or common to the complainants. Clearly, the “Wowowee” tragedy victims do not possess a joint right. They have distinct rights that have been violated, calling for different claims. To illustrate, a person who suffered physical injuries during the tragedy has a different right and claim to be enforced compared with a surviving spouse of one who perished in the incident.

What the news stories actually point to is the possible “joinder” of parties in case the victims all decide to sue ABS-CBN, because there exists common questions of fact and of law.

In remedial law, a joinder of parties and a class suit are not interchangeable concepts. Erroneously instituting a class suit instead of applying the rule on joinder of parties is fatal to a case filed.

Aside from the “Wowowee” tragedy articles, the recent issue on the alleged lack of authority of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) enforcers to confiscate licenses and apprehend traffic violators has also been at the heart of erroneous reportage. A news article appearing in a major daily reported that the MMDA does not have police powers to catch violators. Worse, it said the Supreme Court ruled that the MMDA cannot enforce traffic laws because the agency does not have police powers.

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Funny as it may sound, the poor reporter confused the state’s inherent power of police power with the power of policemen to enforce penal laws. But it is no laughing matter especially when you have thousands of readers who may not know any better.

The police power refers to the power of the state to enact laws for the general welfare. The power of the policemen, on the other hand, is the power to execute laws. Police power is an attribute of the legislature and not of the executive branch to which policemen belong.

Lack of legal knowledge is never an excuse for journalists to come up with articles that tend to mislead readers. There are enough law books and lawyers in the metropolis from which and from whom they can seek guidance. In short, journalists must do the work of research.

It is not enough to just write something that sounds right that probably describes the situation. Coming across unfamiliar terms, be it legal, business, medical, scientific, and the like, necessitate research to avoid misinformation.

Writing is not just the ability to come up with grammatically sound sentences and paragraphs. It also requires content, the element which draws the readers.

Writing is a coercive force in forming opinions, giving print journalists an added burden to make sure that there is no miscommunication. Responsible journalism, after all, includes factual reporting, which calls for the proper use of technical terms.

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