Four media-related events occurred within days of each other last week.
One was the release by the press freedom watch group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF — Reporters Without Borders) of a report on the troubled state of press freedom in many countries including the Philippines. RSF ranked the Philippines a low 133rd out of 180 countries.
Almost every government official has the same message whenever the birth or death anniversaries of the country’s heroes are marked: it is to remember what they did for the country, and to emulate their patriotism and devotion to the welfare and betterment of the nation.
On the 121st death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, for example, President Rodrigo Duterte told Filipinos to remember the national hero’s “ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our country,” and to “reflect on his patriotism as we strive to continue his work of building a more united, peaceful and prosperous Philippines.”
Apparently unique in the Philippine press freedom regime, the practice of appointed and elected officials’ serving as newspaper columnists, or as television or radio commentators, blurs the necessary distinction between the government as object of public scrutiny, and the free press’ critical function of monitoring government. It creates a conflict of interest between the government’s and its officials’ interest in getting favorable publicity, and the citizenry’s need for impartial reports and evaluations of events and issues of concern including government doings and policies.
May 3 was proclaimed in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly as World Press Freedom Day on the recommendation of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It has since been celebrated every year by journalists’ and media groups in over 100 countries, with UNESCO leading the commemoration.
World Press Freedom Day, says UNESCO, provides an opportunity “to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” The theme of the celebration this year is “Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age.”
SOME institutions in Cebu including the media are embroiled in the impasse between Malacanang and suspended Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. It has raised issues relevant to the media and the press, among them whether the suspension of the operations of a government-run TV station and the firing of a columnist of a newspaper owned by Garcia’s relatives are press freedom issues.
The Department of Interior and Local Government suspended Garcia last December for allegedly misusing government funds. Garcia claimed her suspension was part of the Liberal Party attempt to control the province in preparation for the May elections. She refused to vacate her office at the Cebu provincial capitol, triggering a crisis in that province that has affected government agencies like the police and a provincial government-controlled TV channel, and the local media, among others.