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.
World Press Freedom Day will be marked this year by journalists’ and media advocacy groups with trepidation in the context of the continuing attacks on press freedom by a government that obviously fears its power to expose official wrongdoing.
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.
The relationship between media and power — whether in the form of governments, business corporations, or institutions with large followings such as churches — has always been problematic.
The media are almost always the first targets of repression, whether in Indonesia during the 1965 coup and the decades that followed it; in Thailand in the present day where the military junta has taken down supposedly offensive posts in online news sites and blogs, and disallowed the holding of press forums — or in the Philippines, where, upon the declaration of martial law, the Marcos terror regime shut down newspapers and radio and TV stations, required all means of reproducing texts and photos to be registered, created a ministry of information from which all government issuances were to be sourced, seized control of the broadcast networks, and allowed only crony-owned newspapers to publish.
JOURNALISTS AND POLITICIANS have always had an uneasy, troubled, and troubling relationship, whether in those countries that are, or which claim to be democracies, and even in dictatorships. But in this country where politics rules both during and between elections, the relationship has sometimes been lethal.
The “Fourth Estate” function of monitoring government often puts competent and honest journalists on a collision course with government officials whether appointed or elected, and with those politicians running for public office during election season. For the dishonest, paid partisanship leads to the same, at times deadly course with his or her patron’s rivals.