Vigilance is key to press freedom

The Philippine Press celebrates Press Freedom Day with some gains to savor: the House of Representatives just passed on second reading the Freedom to Information Act; Congress is also studying the decriminalization of libel; and the number of slain journalists is not as high as the previous years.

As we celebrate, however, let us be reminded that the tenuous gains attained are not gifts from government.

It was not too long ago that media groups and companies campaigning to halt violence against journalists were being tagged enemies of that state. It was not too long ago that media was routinely being called an agent of destabilization, with government threatening the revocation of broadcast licenses or the padlocking of newspaper offices. And just a few months ago, state authorities handcuffed journalists for the non-existent crime of covering yet another political upheaval.

Indeed, that things are not worse than they are today is mainly a tribute to the local media community’s tenacity in defending press freedom.

As for the murders of journalists, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines believes that even one slay is one too many. The threat continues to hover over Philippine media because the culture of impunity remains, as seen in the absence of any conviction of a mastermind in a journalist’s murder. The track record in punishing those who seek to silence the press is likewise dismal – of the 93 number of journalist slays, only 5 cases have resulted in the conviction of the triggermen.

As we celebrate Press Freedom Day, let us invoke the memory of Marcelo Del Pilar, who brandished his pen to help liberate the nation from its oppressors. While the Philippine Propaganda Movement spawned several heroes, Del Pilar in particular is a worthy example: He educated the masses, using their language and showing how issues affected their daily life.

As the country grapples today with many of the same problems that faced Del Pilar’s readers, Philippine journalists should strike to comport themselves in an ethical manner and master the skills to help citizens come up with enlightened decisions on many issues.

As in Del Pilar’s time, truth telling remains fraught with dangers. The NUJP believes Philippine media has proven and will continue to prove its commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. We call on citizenry to likewise exert vigilance and help us oppose any and all acts that would diminish these freedoms. The history of our nation shows that media does not exist in a vacuum. It is when media resolutely defends and exercises the right to a free press – and likewise defends everyone’s right to free expression – that a society is able to trump those who seek to drag the nation into the dark ages of authoritarianism.

References:

Jose Torres Jr., Chairperson

Rowena Paraan, Secretary-General

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