CMFR Statement on the RTC Ruling: A BLOW TO PRESS FREEDOM

THE Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility looks at the dismissal by the Makati Regional Trial Court of the class suit it filed with other media organizations and individual journalists as particularly alarming, and agrees with counsel Harry Roque that it could yet be the biggest blow to press freedom to date.

The ruling was issued in the context of a clear policy by a regime hostile to press freedom and the people’s right to information to do all it can, both within and outside the law, as well as to stretch to the limit what is legally allowed, to deny the press its Constitutionally- guaranteed right to cover events of public interest, and, therefore, the public’s right to information on such matters. The arrest of journalists during the Peninsula incident was not only an attack on the press but on democracy itself.

In that incident, the regime stretched the definition of obstruction of justice to include press coverage, and used that excuse to abuse journalists even after the so-called military rebels had been taken into custody. It arrested and handcuffed the journalists and media technicians present without even the courtesy of stating why they were being so treated; and under the pretext of determining who were legitimate journalists and who were not, hauled them off to a police camp for “processing” .

This incident was the worst of its kind in the history of the struggle for press freedom since 1946. It was worse than any attempt by government to restrain the press during the several coup attempts against the Aquino government. The system for control of the press was clear during the Martial Law period, and there was little of this kind of manhandling of journalists at work. There is no such clarity for the protection of the press during this administration.

The license appropriated by this regime, its stretching the meaning of the law to include putting the “right” of the government to arrest those it claims to be obstructing justice above the constitutionally protected freedom of the press had to be stopped, together with its presumption that there’s a right way and a wrong way for the media to respond to crisis.

Deciding whether to stay and to continue to cover a developing story, or to withdraw from the scene is the editorial prerogative of a constitutionally protected press. No regime has the right to dictate that a decision to stay and cover is wrong and can be penalized. These issues, all vital to the capacity of the press to do its mandated duty of providing the public the information it needs, are among those that the class suit sought to resolve in favor of press freedom.

And yet the RTC decision would not only legitimize an illegitimate attempt to subvert press freedom, the Constitution and democracy. It would now embolden and arm the regime with the license to repeat the offense, as it has several times threatened to do. CMFR is prepared to take the fight to reverse this decision and to affirm the primacy of press freedom all the way to the Supreme Court.

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