Media and Democratic Development

By Melinda Quintos de Jesus
Executive Director
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Keynote Speaker
Session 4
“Transformation in New Democracies” Conference organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, January 25, 2007

Introduction

I would like to begin by asking you to place yourself in a moment of Philippine history, in the unfolding of events that many Filipinos still cherish in their hearts.

Imagine the tumultuous sounds and the mass of people lined up on the broad avenue called EDSA in Metropolitan Manila. Men and women, young and old, walking or standing, or on their knees in prayer. Some people held up rosaries. Some women carried flowers, offering these to the soldiers in a gesture of peace. Others simply raised their clenched fists. Others marched boldly in the frontlines to meet the military tanks that had been called out by then President Ferdinand Marcos to stop them.

After 14 years of strongman rule, a group of military officers, headed by General Fidel V. Ramos, had defected and were isolated in a military camp located on the same EDSA. Their plight which had been announced on a clandestine radio station Radyo Bandido (Bandit Radio) brought out the people to the streets, in an effort to protect them from troops loyal to the government.

On February 25, the fourth day of the barricades, these events were now covered by international media as a popular uprising against a long standing dictatorship. It was the first to be televised of such events, a phenomenon which would earn the name People Power.

This massive protest challenged a regime mired in corruption and sustained by continuous repression. These days marked the end of strongman rule and made possible the restoration of Philippine democracy.

Some 20 years later, a new generation of Filipinos may be too young to remember the moment. And the symbolic force of People Power itself seems to have been lost to the painful years of struggle that have dogged the transformation of the Philippines into a democracy. These first steps toward freedom were probably the most dramatic. But it takes more than freedom to make democratic change truly meaningful.

Ladies and gentlemen, I begin with this recollection as a way of dramatizing where I come from. I am a journalist who wrote in the media during Martial Law. I was part of the media who would conduct more probing coverage of the regime in what would be called the “alternative press.” In 1989, I helped to establish a private foundation, an NGO that would address the problems confronting press freedom. I have no academic credentials and can claim no real expertise, except the ideas and insights which have been drawn from experience, and the readings that I have forced myself to do to validate them.

My discussion of terms therefore is not for the purpose of instruction, as these are probably better understood by the experts and academics in the audience. I do so only to illustrate the confusion that is out there – the misunderstanding and misuse of the terms of democracy. This confusion has made it difficult to establish a common and shared framework of analysis, even for those who are engaged in the business of promoting democratic development.

Terms of Discussion

The assigned subject presumes that the media play a role in building up a nation or society under any kind of political system. The media serve as instruments for control and guidance, allowing authoritarian leaders to project their goals for the people. In democracies, the media play a role apart from government, serving independent functions and purposes.

Different kinds of political systems assign different roles to the media. The difference or contrast shows that the media are essentially neutral transmitters of information and ideas, reflecting the realities in which these channels operate.

Democracy

Elections are generally recognized as the basic requirement of the democratic system. Democracy cannot be separated from the idea of representative government. The system calls for enough citizens to share the same choice. The result of the vote should express the will of the majority of the people.

The system can be parliamentary, where the legislative and executive are merged; or it can be a republican system with the separate but coordinate branches of government holding off each other in a system of check and balance. The important thing is that these have been chosen by the sovereign will of the people and not by self appointment, certainly not as inheritance, and not as a divine right.

People use the word to describe what they desire in terms of governance. Democracy represents the ideal, a system of good government that guarantees and protects people’s rights as well as provides public goods and services.

The democratic system has become identified with conditions that are required for democracy to grow and gain meaning, a system that has for its core the liberal values of freedom and equality. The holding of elections is the minimum requirement. The conditions, however, do not flow automatically from the exercise of the ballot.

These conditions include the rule of law, an effective judicial system, efficient and competent administrators. These conditions require a strong state with functioning agencies, existing for the public good. Without these conditions, elections may be only a matter of form, with little meaning or connection to these desired outcomes.

Democracy also requires an engaged citizenry. For without a level of public involvement, elections become only a game or competition among established forces in society.

These aspects demonstrate how Abraham Lincoln’s words accurately describe democracy as a government “of the people, for the people and by the people.”

Ideally, these citizens should have a real choice among the candidates seeking public office. In many elections in the 119 democracies in the world, as counted by Fareed Zakaria in his book, The Future of Freedom (2003), people’s choices are often quite limited, and the vote may be limited to a choice between two evils perhaps; or with only one person running for head office and one party to elect to their seats in parliament.

With the rise of democracy as a universal standard, this discussion should recognize the variations in the quality of democracies around the world. Not all democracies are the same. Elections have given power repeatedly to tyrants and dictators; as well as to corrupt and incompetent leaders. In such countries, then, elections do not necessarily result in good governance.

Democracies are not created equal.

The conditions which brought forth the democracies of the West were certainly different in background from one another and these conditions are even more radically different from those in countries in the so-called developing world. These differences constitute various factors such as history, population growth, land mass and natural resources, and all those other aspects, material or social, that affect growth and development.

Democracy also describes a way of life that grows out of the ideals of the democratic political system: liberty and freedom, equality in law, and the basic and fundamental rights of citizens. These values evolve a way of life involving certain processes: the opening up of political and economic systems to the participation of all members, the consequent empowerment of those previously excluded from the structures of power with access to power, the free flow of information, and a vibrant public exchange of views and news. Democratic development would have at its core the operative values of freedom and equality in law for all its citizens.

Development

What about the term “development?”

The opening up of political and economic processes has linked democracy to economic growth, thus the presumption that democracy and development go together. But examples show that this is not always so. And these examples hold up how indeed development can proceed on separate levels. Are we referring to the development of political and social capital or the development of economic capital?

Representative government has been shown to be a very difficult process. An enlightened monarch could actually make things very good for his or her subjects. The examples of China and other countries with closed political systems have shown also how economic growth can be facilitated by a change in government policy, a shift that will make it easier for trade and markets to produce wealth.

In many democracies, the course of development may be faithful to the schedule of elections, but the electoral cycle leaves many in society without the benefits mentioned above. Examples of how damaged political cultures can stand in the way of democratic political and economic growth abound in the world of developing democracies, including the Philippines.

In the early 1990s, then Prime Minister of Singapore, now Senior Mentor Lee Kuan Yew criticized the stalling of economic growth in the country after People Power ousted Ferdinand Marcos. The problem, Lee Kuan Yew said, was that the Philippines had too much democracy. In a roundtable discussion sometime in the 90s, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a Jesuit and constitutional expert and at the time president of the Ateneo de Manila University, explained, and I paraphrase, “We in the Philippines have a democracy so that Filipinos can be free. The system is not designed to provide efficient and good government. What we need to do now, is to create good government out of our democracy.”

I bring this up to emphasize a central point, that neither democracy nor development can be handed to any people or country on a silver platter. It calls for shared commitment and hard work. It is a long term process.

As conditions in each country are different from one another, we see everywhere in the world democracy and growth proceeding more quickly or more slowly than others.

Media

It is in this rough and shoddy terrain of developing democracies that we locate the question for the media. Once again, we need to deconstruct the term for the appropriate meaning.

The term “media” encompasses all kinds of communication channels. Lately, these refer to the mass media which facilitate the transmission or exchange among many of ideas, images, symbols, the content of high culture and popular entertainment. Such media systems can nurture democracy, not just as a system of government, but also as a way of life.

The press, however, refers more specifically to the exercise of journalism. A democratic dispensation assigns to the press media the task of informing the public about the issues and events that they need to know for them to be able to participate in public affairs. Newspapers and broadcast news media report on issues and events of significance, facilitate the exchange of views, encourages debate and discussion among those who disagree. At their best, journalistic media help to create a community of citizens who understand public issues, so they can share in the task of governance and take responsibility for the quality of public life.

From day to day, public education also calls for a media that explains and clarifies issues, policies, programs and services, holding these up to public scrutiny, and inviting critical observation. The function of media as “watchdog” involves providing information about misconduct and misdeeds in high places, where there is power to keep such wrongdoing from public knowledge. So investigative reporting occupies an important niche in a free press.

The above model does enhance democratic processes. But the media also depend on certain conditions for the system to flourish. Clearly, it is much more difficult for the media to play a constructive role in developing or faltering democracies. The reason is simple. The media are channels or systems of communication that reflect or mirror the problems and difficulties of the societies in which they operate.

The free press is vital to the vigor of the mature democracies that have been tested by time. But it plays an even more important role in making democratic development possible in the more challenging landscape of new or newly restored democracies.

Where there is no rule of law, where public conduct proceeds without the required sense of fairness and civility, the media can also become instruments of the ruthless and the powerful. They can be simply the instruments to be used by the competing factions or groups. In this situations, the media may lose the potential to give voice to those who have less and to promote a greater equality among citizens.

A Framework of Understanding

That is quickly said the framework of understanding of the subject. The quick summary simplifies a complex discussion. But for our purposes this morning, it will have to suffice. I had taken time to clarify the basic ideas or concepts about media and the press to enable us to set up a road map for the future of media in a developing democracy.

I will attempt to present some ideas drawn from current literature as well as the actual experience in the Philippines which provides an example of the problems confronting democracy and development.

Media in Society

Media reflect the weaknesses and strengths, the problems and opportunities inhering in the society in which they operate. The media are tools that a society can make use of to attain different things: control and cohesion, openness and diversity, and the empowerment of citizens through information.

States in Crisis

While media and press freedom are part of democratic arrangement, the effectivity of these instruments will vary. The study written by James Putzel and Joost van der Zwan for the Crisis States Research Center of the London School of Economics, the Annenberg School for Communication (University of Pennsylvania), and the Stanhope Center for Communications Policy Research describes the template of media freedom with two basic components: autonomy and privatization. Media should be independent, with freedom from government to be guaranteed by law. Media should also be in private hands, to provide a check to the power of government.

But their study reviews the experience in the world of new or newly restored democracies to suggest that in certain conditions, the template of free and privately owned media and press may not be appropriate. In a crisis situation, the media may be weighed down by the conditions or submit to the agenda of various competing forces.

These landscapes include countries in the following categories identified by the study:

1. Fragile State – A state significantly susceptible to crisis in one or more of its subsystems, particularly vulnerable to internal and
external shocks, and domestic and international conflicts.
2. Crisis State – a state under acute stress, where reigning institutions face serious contestation and potentially unable to manage
conflict and shocks.
3. Failed State – a condition of ‘state collapse” – e.g. a state that can no longer perform its basic security, and development
functions and that has no effective control over its territory and borders.

In the states described above, the free and privatized media become conditioned by the prevailing crisis and conflict and are in no position to facilitate democracy or development.

Democracies in Transition

I will add to these a category of “democratic transition.” In these transitions, the state can remain weak and unable or unwilling to enforce law and order. Officials are corrupt and courts inefficient or both. The degree of weakness and frailty varies. The term developing democracy would be appropriate to use to describe such a state.

The question of the role of the media and press is critical in countries like the Philippines and Thailand, where the state institutions function to a degree that allows government to proceed but remains vulnerable to radical political shifts and continuing political crisis. In these two countries, political discourse makes use of the terms “test of democracy” or “attacks against democracy,” suggesting that democracy may not be strong enough to withstand the trauma inflicted upon the systems and institutions. Elected leaders may display autocratic and dictatorial tendencies, and the political class, both economic and political, may not be interested in providing public service and the distribution of wealth and goods but only in the preservation of their positions of power.

In these countries, democracy may be understood as being in an early period of development. The task for the press should be the same as that assigned to the press in a more developed and well established democratic society. But in these states in transition, the press may need to do more.

The press should consider contributing to the task of basic public education, helping citizens to understand the roles of government institutions, their functions, the dilemmas of policy, and the context of competing views and forces when these occur. The citizens and voters in these societies may have gone through basic schooling but may not be able to continue learning as citizens. In time, the voters will end up failing in their responsibilities as citizens, primarily, in voting wisely and making poor choices for their leaders.

Unfortunately, the free press communities in developing democracies may be failing in this task of citizen education. Many working journalists are not aware of their place in the democratic system. Their jobs are shaped by the structures of power and influence, and the press too has become vulnerable to political or commercial pressures. Given failed and flawed governments, the press becomes easily subverted by tyrants, dictators, and corrupt and clever politicians.

Road Map: Media for Democratic Development

Sometime in the 1940s, a group of eminent thinkers in the US undertook the study of the role of the press to determine the legitimate expectations that the public can have of its service. Hutchins Commission released its report in 1947 and enumerated the following objectives for the free press in the US:

1. Provide a “truthful, comprehensive account of the day’s events in a context that gives them meaning”
2. Serve as a “forum for the exchange of comment and criticism”
3. Offer a “representative picture of the constituent groups of society”
4. Present and clarify the goals and values of society
5. Provide a way of reaching every member of the society by the currents of information, thought, and feeling which the press
supplies.” (as cited by Bollinger)

The report has since been used to develop a template of social responsibility for the press and media. Despite this effort, media products and services in many Western democracies have fallen short of these values and ideals.

A Commercial Free Press

But in the course of the growth of the press media, the conventions of the press have set forth criteria for the practice that do not always coincide with these goals. To determine what is newsworthy, journalists have been trained to look for news of broad and wide interest, news about prominent people, public figures, and celebrities. The “news” tends to emphasize the sensational, the extraordinary, and the out-of-norm. These criteria leave out many important and relevant news that citizens should know about. The issues that affect many marginalized communities are also ignored.

The free market system imposes a business model based on circulation of the media product, viewership ratings, and advertising. The model projects the journalistic activity of reporting and commentary for commercial ends. As a consequence, news has focused on the trivial and resort to news as entertainment which is easier to sell.

Other weaknesses become more pronounced when the press as an institution lacks professional maturity or competence. In the midst of political forces, the free press may not be so free after all, as it becomes captive to political and partisan groups,
and turns out news in the service of some other political agenda. Where corruption is rampant, the press tends to be part of the cycle with its own set of unethical practices, selling news and space or following the spin of stories without checking out the facts and the context of the stories.

In different transitions, societies have seen the press liberated from official regulation, even protected from laws that encroach on media autonomy. But more often than not, the media and press become tools of the established powers and facilitate the perpetration of the undemocratic forces in the political system.

Self-Regulation

In democratic transitions, the pendulum swing to freedom is so swift that the people are oblivious to the implications of the shift to freedom and democracy. Such change can give rise to excesses as well as outright abuse of press power, all of which give rise to complaints and to calls from different sectors, including government, for limits and regulatory sanctions, if not, return to control by government.

Given freedom from government interference, the press should develop its framework of self-regulation, recognizing the internal force inherent in the practice of freedom. As argued by American First Amendment scholar Lee Bollinger, autonomy has its costs and autonomy imposes control. He observes the image of the free press in America as “suffused with ethical content.” Journalistic standards would do well to reflect if the practice is to assist in the achievement of goals of democratic development.

These can be done through various established instruments, among them,
journalism ethics training, media monitors, and journalism reviews. There should be continuing education of journalists and media workers, especially in the principle and practice of democracy as well as the promotion of best practices and the encouragement of excellence. The formation of professional associations should hold their members to standards of practice. Citizen press councils or other venues for receiving complaints should force the press to listen to critical feedback. Finally, the market should involve its own checks. Media literacy empowers citizens to use the press more critically.

The last involves the public in the upholding media freedom as well as the social responsibilities of journalism as public service. A media literate public appreciates and understands the role of the press in society. The public can evaluate the performance of the press, voice its criticism of its failings as well as encourage and applaud its strong points.

Without media literacy, the public becomes a passive and indifferent consumer of media programs and services, providing the excuse for commercialism to shape unchecked media content and style. “This is what the people want. This is the kind of news that gets read. This is what rates.”

Shaping the character of the free press, self-regulation should not be about limiting press freedom. Rather, voluntary programs and mechanisms should enhance freedom for all, give voice to those without power, improve the press service by engaging all sectors in the public dialogue, broaden the bases of coverage so that the service fulfills its part in the democratic arrangement. A democratic theory for the press should underlie all efforts at self-regulation. If the assigned purpose for the press is providing information so that citizens can be involved in their governance, journalism must serve the broad advocacy for freedom and equality for all.

The road map takes us back to the central idea in democracy – the sovereignty of
the people and the role played by the citizen.

In promoting democratic development, the “community of democracies” should examine the participation of citizens in public affairs, the engagement of citizens in the scrutiny and evaluation of those representing them in government, and the capacity of citizens to monitor media performance, to give feedback to the press, if a free press is to thrive.

Democratic communities must foster a new relationship between the press and the public, more connected and more interactive. Such a relationship will evolve a new kind of journalism to meet the challenge of the age of democracy.

References:

Bollinger, Lee C. Images of a Free Press. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Commission on Freedom of the Press. A Free and Responsible Press: A General Report on Mass Communications: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947.

Putzel, James and Joost van der Zwan. “Why Templates for Media Development do not Work in Crisis States: Defining and Understanding Media Development Strategies in Post-war and Crisis States”. Project Report. Crisis States Research Centre. London: London School of Economics and Political Science, 2005.

Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.

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Dismantling the culture of impunity

By Luis V. Teodoro
Professor of Journalism
College of Mass Communication
University of the Philippines

Member, Board of Advisers,
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

(This is a talk Prof. Teodoro delivered at the Press Freedom and Philippine Law Roundtable discussion sponsored by CMFR on December 5, 2006. The book Limited Protection: Press Freedom and Philippine Law, which Prof. Teodoro edited and in which he has an essay called “Understanding the Culture of Impunity” was launched.)

Dismantling the culture of impunity is not really as Quixotic as it sounds. Many of the steps needed to achieve that goal some media advocacy and journalists’ groups like the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the National Union of Journalists have already taken, the killing of journalists and consequent problems having validated to some extent these groups’ efforts– among them engaging the law community and addressing the professional and ethical issues that afflict Philippine journalism– in enhancing the responsible exercise of press freedom.

For many media advocacy and journalists’ groups worldwide, the “culture of impunity” explains why journalists are surveilled, threatened, beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed, in some cases despite laws protective of press freedom.

Defined primarily as the way some societies ignore, permit or even encourage various forms of violence against journalists as well as their harassment and intimidation, and allow these to go unpunished, the culture of impunity has become a common phenomenon in many countries in the post 9/11 era. As has been widely observed, for example by the international free expression watchdog group International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), among the consequences of the events of September 11, 2001 was the reversal of an earlier trend, as the world moved into the 21st century, towards the liberalization of free expression.

The “culture of impunity” is today almost exclusively used to explain the continuing assassination of journalists in the Philippines. It is based on a paradox: its dominion is rooted in the weakness of the Philippine justice system. This weakness is the product of the synergy of a number of political, economic, and social factors. A crucial aspect of this weakness is the ineffective witness protection program which inhibits witnesses from coming forward, despite repeated police urging.

Most evident is the feeble will on the part of the political authority to protect citizens including journalists. But in the communities journalists claim to serve, the apathy of much of the citizenry is as plain. It is an apathy so pronounced it validates suspicions that the press’ own flaws have led to widespread skepticism over its claim that it is an invaluable public asset

Meanwhile, while there are many lawyers committed enough to free expression to offer their services to the families of slain journalists– which in the communities is no mean act of courage. But there do not seem to be enough press freedom advocates among lawyers to match the sheer number of journalist murders. In some communities this is a critical factor quite simply because, unable to rely on the justice system’s operating as a matter of course even in murder cases, the families of the slain need private prosecutors to see to it that their kin’s killers are brought to court.

While the synergy of these factors is what drives the culture of impunity, the key reason for the continuing killing of journalists is still the near-zero arrest, trial, and conviction of their killers.

In a report (“Elusive Justice”) for the Committee to Protect Journalists after a visit to Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur shortly after the murder of Edgar Damalerio in 2003, former CPJ Asian Bureau head Lin Neumann pointed out that “in another place, [the] crime might be relatively easy to solve. The victim was well known locally, and two witnesses were eager to come forward and talk to police. Plus, the shooting occurred across the street from the local police station.

“But Pagadian City isn’t your typical town,” Neuman went on. “A dusty trading port surrounded on one side by verdant hills dotted with coconut plantations and on the other by a gentle coastline interspersed with fishing villages, Pagadian City has the slapdash feel of a poor town where a very few people make quick money. While coconuts and rice may be the staple crops, smuggling and corruption, say the locals, are the real source of wealth for a small percentage of the population.

“Despite the town’s remote location, Damalerio’s murder drew condemnation within the country and abroad, and authorities in Manila, a world away from Pagadian City, say they are also trying to move the case along. In the Philippines, however, justice can be elusive. In the countryside, far from the capital, warlord politics, official corruption, and a breakdown in the justice system have contributed to the fact that 39 journalists have been murdered since democracy was restored in 1986-and all those cases remain officially unsolved.”

As is widely known in the Philippines, among the signs of the weakness-or the breakdown, as Neuman put it– of the justice system in the Philippines, whether in the countryside or its urban areas, is the police’s protecting suspected killers, or even their involvement in the killings which some local officials have been accused of masterminding.. This lethal combination results in a climate of fear to which even Department of Justice prosecutors are not immune.

It should be obvious, however, that this weakness is among the many consequences that result from a political system of patronage and corruption that rule the communities where most of the journalists have been killed. The existence of local centers of power with interests- among them corruption and/or such criminal activities as illegal gambling- in conflict with those of the public and which therefore have to be concealed; and, if they are not intimidated into passive acquiescence to wrong-doing, the consequent collusion of the police, prosecutors and even judges with these political and criminal interests.

Many of the murders of journalists have thus been traced to their reporting or commenting on official corruption, gambling, prostitution, smuggling, and other community issues. The very system they criticize, however, is what makes the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of their killers difficult and at times nearly impossible.

Most of the slain journalists cannot be accused of not doing journalism’s essential task of reporting and commenting on community concerns especially governmental performance. But one suspects that the apathy over the killings evident in many localities cannot be attributed to fear alone. That apathy is at least partly the result of perceptions that most journalists are, shall we say, less than perfect. Anyone who has had the good fortune of interacting with some journalists in some form or another-perhaps as a trainer in many of the continuing education programs in place in this country, for example, or as a practitioner, or both, or as a victim, or subject, rather, of their tender attentions — knows only too well the many professional and ethical problems that afflict the practice.

Too many journalists get involved in the quarrels of the strong, abandoning the non-partisanship essential to the journalistic enterprise in favor of, say, writing and distributing press releases for their patrons or using their radio programs to attack their patrons’ rivals. Their coming to harm once they’re perceived as partisan is only one of the consequences of ethical and professional failure, but not its worst outcome. That distinction certainly belongs to the resultant perception in many communities– developed over time and in the course of experience—that many journalists are not only partisan and corrupt; they don’t have much to say that’s of value to anyone else except themselves and their patrons either. Radio commentary is thus regarded as so much background noise that’s good for an occasional chuckle or so, but hardly worth thinking seriously about. As for print, some of its practitioners are not only so obviously in this or that interest’s payroll they might as well shout it to the rooftops. Other than predictable paeans to the wisdom of this or that politician, they don’t have much to say either.

These perceptions affect even those who’re trying their best to do their jobs as fairly, as honestly and as rigorously as possible. But because the most numerous are the noisiest and the most visible, the entire press community including its best practitioners suffers, most concretely in terms of public indifference to the murder of even its best and brightest.

The implications for the media advocacy and journalism communities are obvious. But I will nevertheless enumerate what I think are some of the measures needed to-possibly, hopefully and eventually–dismantle the culture of impunity.

1. Media advocacy and journalists’ organizations need to deepen and accelerate the continuing education of journalists, especially of the untrained or inadequately trained. But it is also necessary to engage journalism schools and the Commission on Higher Education to assist the effort to improve the professional and ethical training of future practitioners at the tertiary level. The same groups including journalism and communication schools must add media literacy planks to their training programs to educate the public on the essential role of the press in society as well as on the need for the public to monitor press performance and to demand observance of the press’ own values.

I am not saying that killers will hesitate to kill ethical and professional journalists precisely because they’re ethical and professional, but that the citizenry is likely to protect professionals who are assets to their communities, and, if they are murdered, to vigorously protest it and pressure government agencies to punish their killers.

2. As the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has been doing, other media advocacy and journalists’ groups need to engage the law community on at least two levels: initiating changes in the law curriculum towards the encouragement of free expression advocacy as suggested by Dean Pangalangan, and to work with the same community in the reform of those laws that affect the exercise of free expression, such as the libel law, the decriminalization of which is decades overdue.

3. Equally important, the press needs to even more rigorously monitor and hold the powerful to account, to give voice to the voiceless, to be fair, humane and just, and to defend its constitutionally protected freedom both through conscious advocacy as well as responsible practice.

If the journalism community’s experience with the murders that have haunted it since 1986 has a lesson to teach, it is no less than this basic imperative. Journalists need to do their jobs as professionally and as ethically as possible, and to engage the entire community in making sure the conditions for it exist. That I think is still the very bottom line.

NUJP statement on the dismissal of the Manila Pen case

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is dismayed with the decision of the Makati regional trial court dismissing the case filed by media organizations and practitioners against government and security personnel who were responsible for the arrest of our colleagues during the November 29 standoff in Makati.

We do not agree with the decision and will contest it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We view the court’s decision as a minor setback that will not discourage us from seeking justice and ensuring that no such injustice shall ever again be committed by the police and other security personnel.
We maintain that there was absolutely no justification whatsoever for the security forces to haul off our colleagues, many in handcuffs, to the police headquarters in Camp Bagong Diwa.

We will continue to defy any and all attempts by this and any other administration to cow or muzzle us into abrogating our duty to provide the people, whom we serve, with the information they need to make informed decisions about their individual lives and our collective future as a nation.

Jose Torres Jr.
Chairperson

Rowena Paraan
Secretary-General

The Silencing of the Press

Anthony Chua

It is embarrassing that the Philippines, Asia’s oldest democracy, has become the second most perilous place for journalists, next only to the war- and terrorists- plagued Iraq.

Since the rise to power of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 57 journalists have been slain, the latest was Marcos Mataro, main host of D’ XMan of UNTV 37, who was shot point-blank on a busy highway in broad daylight. Out of these cases, some of which are alleged extrajudicial killings, only a few were solved. The rest, including Mataro’s, remained stalled because of some mysterious powers emanating from high places.

In addition to this, many, like Philippine Daily Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Ninez Cacho-Olivarez were charged with libel with outrageous penalties. The six months to two years imprisonment sentence to Olivarez by Judge Winlove Dumayas of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 59 was too much for a Supreme Court’s circular titled “Guidelines in the observance of a rule of preference in the imposition of penalties in libel cases” wherein the country’s highest court urge judges to mete out fines instead of jail time to persons convicted of libel. What made a judge bestow such a decision transcending the highest court in the country? The public can assume that some powers are trying to surpass the Supreme Court’s mandate and to silence the media.

Though Malacanang has recently been active in freeing ABS-CBN anchor and senior reporter Ces Drilon and company, mostly journalists, it has done minimally in respecting Drilon’s obligation to report some realities in some depressed parts of Mindanao. The palace even chided Drilon about using her intrepidity unwisely, causing tension to a nation that has already been fed up with depressing and scary news like food crisis and double digit inflation.

But Drilon was just doing her job in delivering the truth despite risking her life, while the government tried to cover-up the truth–insisting at first that no ransom was shelled out to the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which has a record of killing mercilessly, but later admitted that “livelihood projects” were promised to the bandits in exchange for the release of the captives.

Despite being a colony of the United States, the modern world’s foremost guardian of democracy, in the past our government still has neglected the powers of free press for the progress of our country. Instead of encouraging the culling of information from the press to improve its management of the nation, the present administration is wielding measures to restrict our access to the truth and to cover it up with deceptions and lies.

By silencing the media, it’s no wonder that the Philippines lags behind most democracies in Asia—nations that were relatively new converts to the potentials and promises of freedom, which has turned their countries from annihilated battlegrounds of World War 2 to present-day economic powerhouses.

A MEDIA FORUM – TORTURE: IS IT HAPPENING AGAIN IN THE PHILIPPINES

PRESS RELEASE
June 21, 2008

Media leaders from print, radio and television outfits across the country will hold a discussion Wednesday, June 25, 2008, on the reportage of human rights violations, particularly the use of torture, in the Philippines.

The forum is one of many activities being held worldwide in commemoration of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which falls annually on the 26th of June.

This project is being organized for the Philippines by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, in cooperation with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (Denmark), the International Federation for Human Rights (France), and Balay Rehabilitation Center, Inc. (Philippines).

The forum will be held at the Richmonde Hotel from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Those interested may contact Karen Papellero (02-411-7768, 09299505190) or May Rodriguez (02-666-3005, 0920-909-2763) of NUJP.

Freedom for Abducted Journalists in the Philippines

Media Release: Philippines
June 18, 2008

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes the safe release of abducted ABN-CBS journalists Ces Drilon, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, as well as university professor Octavio Dinampo, on June 17.

Drilon and her media crew were reported missing on Jolo island, Sulu archipelago, on June 8. They were reportedly abducted by the Abu Sayyaf militant organisation as they prepared to interview members of the group.

IFJ Asia-Pacific joins its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in acknowledging the tireless efforts of rescue teams, the military and the police to secure the safety of the abducted team.

In a press statement, the NUJP made special mention of Indanan town Mayor Alvarez Isnaji, Vice Governor Lady Anne Sahidullah and Senator Loren Legarda for their determination to secure an unconditional release.

The IFJ supports the NUJP’s call for media owners and journalists alike to take this abduction as a reminder that protective measures and assessment of safety must be a high priority when media workers enter notoriously dangerous regions of the Philippines.

“Even as we welcome back our colleagues, we also urge everyone in our profession to reflect on this incident as a sober reminder of the risks we constantly face as we go about our work,” the NUJP said in a statement today.

With five journalists killed in the country in 2007, the Philippines is among the most dangerous locations for practising journalists in the Asia-Pacific region.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 in 122 countries worldwide

Robert Bolisay, Jr.

For File