Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

‘Anti-free press’ bill hit

September 26th, 2013 · No Comments

Estrada bill ‘anti-free press’
For real press freedom, least government interference vital
Sun.Star Cebu, September 26, 2013

By Gabriel T. Ingles

(Associate Justice Gabriel T. Ingles of the Court of Appeals Cebu Station gave this speech during the 32nd Quarterly Meeting of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council on Sept. 19, 2013 at Quest Hotel and Conference Center Cebu. He had been asked to comment on Senate Bill 380 or the “Magna Carta for Journalists” introduced by Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada.)


The importance of press freedom to good governance

“Much has been written on the philosophical basis of press freedom as part of the larger right of free discussion and expression. Its practical importance, though, is more easily grasped. It is the chief source of information on current affairs. It is the most pervasive and perhaps most powerful vehicle of opinion on public questions. It is the instrument by which citizens keep their government informed of their needs, their aspirations and their grievances. It is the sharpest weapon in the fight to keep government responsible and efficient. Without a vigilant press, the mistakes of every administration would go uncorrected and its abuses unexposed. As Justice Malcolm wrote in United States v. Bustos:

The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and unjust accusation; the wound can be assuaged with the balm of clear conscience. Its contribution to the public weal makes freedom of the press deserving of extra protection.”
(Chavez vs. Gonzales, et al., G.R. No. 168338, Feb. 15, 2008)

“The liberty of the press is indeed essential. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” (Benjamin Franklin)

According to Ateneo law professor Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, “Freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution’s Bill of Rights because the press is the ‘voice of the people’ and only the press can wage a powerful public campaign alerting the people of government abuses.”

Press freedom though is not absolute, as we all well know. There are well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech like obscenity and libel, which are accepted as not violative of the constitutionally protected right.

Estrada’s proposal

Estrada’s Magna Carta for Journalists, among others, proposes the creation of the Philippine Council for Journalists (PCJ), thus:

Section 5 – Philippine Council for Journalists (PCJ) – There shall be created a Philippine Council for Journalists (PCJ) that will serve as the development center for journalism and at the same time act as a self-regulatory body for journalists and the journalism profession.

(a) Composition of the Philippine Council for Journalists – The body shall be composed of journalism organizations duly recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) represented by the President or his representative. The following organization shall compose the PCJ:
1. National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC)
2. Philippine Press Institute (PPI)
3. Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)
4. Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP)
5. Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC)
6. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
7. Publishers Association of the Philippines Inc. (PAPI)
8. Federation of Provincial Press Club (FPPC)

(b) Functions of the Council – The Council shall hold the following responsibilities:
1. to produce database or directory of accredited journalists from
both print and broadcast media to be updated regularly;
2. to accredit journalist as define therein;
3. to conduct seminars, trainings and other related activities; xxx

In sum, the proposed law mandates the creation of a Philippine Council for Journalists to be composed of eight private press associations or organizations, imposing upon them certain public duties, among them, self-regulation.

The proposal is anti-free press.

The PCJ is, in effect, a government agency tasked to regulate the press.

Journalists should be independent from government. To uphold their solemn obligation to be the “voice of the people” on how government is run, they should do it freely without being or appearing to be dictated upon or influenced by government.

For press freedom to be a reality, the least governmental interference is of the essence.

The press, if it is to be a truly free and effective government watchdog, should be free from inappropriate connection with, and influence by, the different branches of government and must also appear to be free therefrom to a reasonable observer.

Journalists should as far as possible, refrain from any and all relations with government which would normally tend to raise the suspicion of the public they serve that such relation or relations warp their judgment and prevent them from being “the instrument by which citizens keep their government informed of their needs, their aspirations and their grievances” and “the sharpest weapon in the fight to keep government responsible and efficient.”

Thus, while a free press is an essential element to good governance it can only be most effective in its role if it is not part of government.

Apparently, as proposed in the bill, the PCJ will be part an agency of government and part of the executive department of government as it neither legislates nor adjudicates controversies. Moreover, its budget and resources will most probably come from public funds which will require legislative grace as under our Constitution no money from the national treasury can be released except by law.

Thus, it will necessarily create a connection between the press and government, which is inappropriate, as it will open the former to influence by the latter, or at least such perception or appearance to the public, which will destroy the credibility of the press.

The proposal compels private associations and organizations to associate.

The constitutionally protected freedom to form an association for purposes not contrary to law includes or covers the right not to join an association. The bill, by mandating that private press associations or organizations form a council, appears to violate the freedom of association.

The legislation cannot be justified as a valid exercise of police power over an essential profession. There is no overriding public interest and public welfare requirement which can legally sustain the legislated compulsion that members of the press associate and be part of government. On the contrary, and as explained, compelling them to form the council, as proposed, would tend to destroy the press’ credibility, causing it to lose its meaning for being “voice of the people” and government watchdog, thus, will harm public welfare instead.


Tags: Media issues

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