World Press Freedom Day has always been the occasion for responsible journalists to re-examine the state of one of the fundamental needs of ethical practice. This year as in 2018, May 3rd was not so much an occasion for celebration as for alarm. As in many other parts of the world, the independent press is under siege from a government that has made it its life work to harass, restrict, threaten and silence it, and to even arrest practitioners for daring to report the truth.
Why has every Philippine regime taken the press and journalists to task, tried to control them, and even arrest and kill practitioners? It’s a question Filipinos should be asking in the context of the laughably fact-challenged attempts of the Duterte regime to paint journalists as part of a grand conspiracy to remove President Rodrigo Duterte from power.
Should the media report everything government officials do and say for the sake of that elusive concept called “objectivity”? Philippine practice suggests that that’s what most journalists assume — and that, no matter how erroneous, outrageous or potentially harmful the statements and actions of those sources may be, their responsibility ends with accurately quoting them.
Some 21.9 million Filipinos, notes the National Anti-Poverty Commission’s Reforming Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy (Manila: NAPC Secretariat, 2017), are officially considered poor. But an additional 50 to 60 million more may also be in the same category “when other dimensions of poverty are considered.”
Those “dimensions” include low incomes, job insecurity, poor nutrition and health, limited access to education and medical care, substandard housing. To these uncertainties may be added, in the time of the Tokhang anti-illegal drugs and anti-“istambay” campaigns and TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act), the threat of losing a family breadwinner or a son and daughter, and record-breaking inflation. This means that poverty and uncertainty are the conditions of life for some 70 to 80 million Filipinos.
The phrase “alternative press” gained currency in the last years of the Marcos terror regime, when Jose Burgos’ Malaya, We Forum, and other newspapers, magazines and news agencies were published to provide Filipinos and the rest of the world the information about human rights violations, environmental issues, the conflict in the South, the state of the economy, and other issues of public concern that the dominant, government-regulated press and media could not and would not provide.