There’s an entire universe of false assumptions about the media in the recent statements of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales. But why isn’t anyone surprised?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) did issue a statement in reaction. But most journalists and the public took Gonzales’ remarks in stride primarily because they’ve come to expect the worst from the Arroyo regime and its leading officials.

Gonzales’ beef was that the regime has been getting a bad press through headlines and news reports which focus on human rights violations and other government wrongdoing.

But a content analysis of media reports would probably find that only some media organizations have been so occupied. (Content analysis is a method in communication research that can establish how media organizations report on certain topics as well as determine bias or the lack of it. )

Two of the “big three” broadsheets–the Star and the Bulletin–cannot be accused of such a focus. On the other hand, the broadsheet Gonzales was probably thinking of, the Inquirer, in keeping with professional standards usually presents the government side on such issues as, say, the political killings.

Reporting political killings and other government wrongdoing is a professional imperative for media practitioners. The news media cannot very well ignore them, given their mandate to report events and developments that affect the citizenry.

Gonzales nevertheless insists that some journalists report such events either because they’ve been paid by “the Left” or are influenced by it.

This is an old, old claim whose origins can no longer be traced. It is also the usual resort of all tyrannies that cannot abide its crimes’ being exposed to public scrutiny. It blames the media for bad news, despite the truth that if there were nothing bad to report there wouldn’t be bad news at all. In the Philippine context, this deception supposes that reporting and commenting on the allegations of corruption, human rights violations, electoral fraud, misuse of public funds and gross violations of the Constitution that have wracked the regime are offenses against the state.

Gonzales goes farther in his effort to exonerate a regime accused of offenses that media cannot help but report, and proceeds to blame media instead. While claiming that the “communist sympathizers in the media” are few, he says they are nevertheless influential, in a veiled warning to critical media practitioners as well as those who’re merely doing their jobs of reporting what’s happening. He went on to say that the Arroyo regime was “profiling” these practitioners, and implied that the regime would take some kind of action against them.

What is clear from these statements is that Gonzales assumes that holding certain views contrary to those acceptable to the regime qualifies journalists for monitoring, “profiling,” and possible sanctions by the government. The same assumption has informed the regime’s views on dissent and protest, which it assumes to be offenses that merit not only harassment and court charges but even assassination “in defense of the state.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita did say that “communist sympathizers” among the media can only be prosecuted if they commit “overt acts” against the state. But Gonzales’ statements were nevertheless made in the context of the continuing assassination of journalists, for which only three killers have so far been prosecuted.

NUJP was thus not exaggerating when it warned that Gonzales’ statements could be interpreted by the usual scum of Philippine society–local crime lords and corrupt officials, the policemen in league with them, and their hired killers–as one more encouragement to shoot journalists.

Despite regime protestations about its “democratic” character, it regards not only dissent and protest, but even reports on them and government anomalies, as capital offenses against the state. This is all of a piece with the assumption that one’s views, rather than one’s use of illegal means to achieve them, makes one fair game for regime persecution.

This strikes at the heart of the democratic assumption that anyone can hold whatever views he or she wants, and that propagating them through the press or any other forum is perfectly within legal limits. What is illegal is the use of violence and exhortations to violence to achieve one’s aims, in response to which the state can defend itself–but only through legal means. Inherent in any democracy, these principles are obviously lost to the nasty gang that has hijacked the government

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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