It was political censorship of the worst kind, although its officers deny it, and insist that the National Press Club (NPC) is “apolitical.” The NPC defaced, via the services of an “artist” who should remain forever obscure, the press freedom mural it itself commissioned from the Neo-Angono Artists’ Collective. The changes included, among others:
(1) Removing a statement of the International Federation of Journalists which warned against the effects of the anti-terror, or “Human Security” act, on press freedom;
(2) Defacing the images of Edith Burgos and her son Jonas, and changing the headline of a newspaper national hero Jose Rizal is holding from the factual “Press Freedom Fighter’s Son Abducted” to the mindless and imbecilic “Press Freedom Fight is On” (Is the fight for press freedom ever “off”? );
(3) Removing the name of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)– which unlike the NPC takes press freedom and free expression issues seriously–from the streamers borne by press freedom demonstrators.
Did these changes and at least two others constitute censorship? The NPC leadership insists they did not. But for their and the enlightenment of others as unfamiliar with the word, but who have never looked at a dictionary either, the standard definition of censorship includes “revising, altering, or correcting” something to conform to one’s own views.
Censorship also means “to cut, expurgate, or bowdlerize.” The last refers to an attempt to make something unpleasant agreeable to pedestrian tastes. (The English doctor Thomas Bowdler published an expurgated version of Shakespeare’s works. “Bowdlerization” now means any attempt by the untalented to tamper with the work of their betters.)
What the NPC did was censorship, period, and no amount of linguistic fraud, evasion and plain inanity (the alterations were “temporary”; the NPC has “given” [!] the Neo-Angono Artists’ Collective the freedom to restore the mural to the original; the artists were “ungrateful”) can hide that fact.
For what purpose did the NPC censor a work whose artistic integrity would have been otherwise respected by any organization that understands the value of free expression? Obviously to protect the tender sensibilities of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who inaugurated the mural on October 26 after it had been inspected by the Presidential Security Group. (The PSG said the mural contained “leftist” elements, and the NPC leadership agreed, apparently on the same ignorant presumption that calling anything “leftist” condemns it. It forgot, if it ever knew at all, that anyone who has ever worked for change—like Jose Rizal, for instance–qualifies as a leftist. But as the NPC would have it, the PSG now has the added power to pass judgment on murals.)
Who is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo? The de facto, though putative president of the Philippines, whose government has been threatening journalists, intimidating TV networks, dispersing public assemblies, and tolerating the killing of journalists. Why did the NPC leadership go to these putrid lengths to please her? Why, in the first place, did it even ask her, of all people on earth, to inaugurate a mural dedicated to the very press freedom she and hers have been trying to savage?
The NPC leadership was not being “apolitical.” It was being crudely, brazenly political–first, when it asked press freedom’s worst foe since Ferdinand Marcos to inaugurate the mural, and second, when it censored it. What’s even worse, what the NPC did was not to expunge “leftist” elements from the mural, but to deface it so as to hide the truth.
Truth-telling is the fundamental value and responsibility of journalism. But here’s the NPC suppressing such truths as that Jonas Burgos was indeed abducted by military agents, and that the anti-terrorism law, deliberately misnamed the Human Security Act, has grim implications for press freedom. These are neither leftist nor rightist claims, but facts–the very stuff of which competent practice and ethical journalism are made. Has the NPC leadership even heard of either? Anyone engaged in the suppression of facts has no business calling himself or herself a journalist, the appropriate word being “hack”–preferably with the words “bought and paid for” attached to it. “Quack” also applies.
Beyond suppressing the facts, equally evident is the NPC’s groveling and fawning before what passes for authority in these parts, in a disgraceful display of its own lack of autonomy and alienation from the very theme–press freedom–of the mural it defaced. Just as obvious is the NPC’s betrayal of the press’ obligation to defend the Neo-Angono Collective artists’ sovereign power over their own work, and their right to express themselves.
Among other obligations, the press should be a guardian of free expression. Its suppression undermines press freedom and democracy itself. But press freedom and its obligations are obviously beyond the NPC leadership’s capacity to understand. The National Press Club claims to be the national organization of journalists, and periodically pays lip service to press freedom. But it hasn’t said anything much about the continuing Arroyo regime assault on the press, journalists and the media, much less done anything about it since it established itself in Arroyo’s good graces.
It’s neither national nor is its membership made up only of journalists either. It hasn’t purged its membership list of non-journalists. Since the martial law years it has included among its members some of the shadiest characters on that side of the Pasig, among them diploma-mill “journalism professors,” sleazy reporters on the take, and the PR flunkies of the worst politicians on the planet.
Few self-respecting journalists are still members of the National Press Club, and it’s understandable. Many lifetime members wouldn’t be caught dead in the premises, the organization being as dingy as its decrepit building. That edifice reeks as much from the rot within as from the stench of the Pasig, and could well be the symbol of everything that’s wrong in the Philippine press and the gangsters who give journalism and journalists such a bad name in these isles of shame.
The NPC has long ceased to be the organization of Antonio Nieva, Renato Constantino, Luis Mauricio, and Antonio Zumel. Completely alienated from the fundamental journalism values of freedom and truth-telling, it has long deserved abolition as much as contempt. Authentic journalists who’re still NPC members should forthwith resign from it, consigning it to the oblivion in which it properly belongs.