Friday, October 28, 2005

Killings, attacks, threats continue to hound Philippine press

The latest issue of the i Report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (November-December 2005 edition) carried a story written by Ma’am Vinia on the case of Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent for the Southern Luzon region Melinda “Mei” Magsino-Lubis. Lubis has been hiding for more than three months now after her stories on alleged irregularities in the Batangas provincial capital involving Gov. Armando C. Sanchez had angered Sanchez, said to be one of the biggest jueteng operators in the country. Lubis had to leave her family and five-hectare mahogany farm in Batangas in July after a police source told her that two convicts from the provincial jail had been released to find and kill her.

Lubis’ story reminded me of the state of journalist killings in the country, which the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has been monitoring since 1991, aside from other threats to and attacks against press freedom. The high number of journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986 (54 as of the present CMFR count), when our democratic institutions following the Marcos dictatorship have supposedly been restored, prompts one to ask: Is the Philippine press really free?

CMFR did a recent study on the journalist killings, focusing on the 25 journalists that have been murdered since 2000. It presented the findings of the study to the media on September 6 (In case you want to know, the press coverage of the CMFR study was anything but accurate, as noted in a PJR Reports monitor).

Among the findings were:

- Most of those killed were community journalists;
- TV and radio broadcasters were more vulnerable to attack;
- Other factors show the weaknesses of the press as an institution, such as the lack of institutional identification/credentials on the part of the broadcasters, the lack of education and formal training in journalism, among others.
- The failure of owners to supervise broadcast press responsibility

In the study, CMFR reiterated that no single solution could solve the cycle of violence and impunity against journalists. While it emphasized the “freedom of speech and press should never be penalized except through the course of libel, slander, or organizational sanctions imposed in line with self-regulation,” CMFR enumerated ways in how to strengthen the press against press freedom violators. These were:

- Safety training undertaken by newsrooms
- Strong legal defense with coordination from law enforcement agencies and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)
- Ethics training and Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas accreditation
- Strengthening the Philippine Press Council (PPC) of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the regional press councils in Baguio, Cebu, and Palawan as venues of complaints against the press. In his article, “The Press and the Public: Words, not Guns, Please,” published in the June 2005 issue of the PJR Reports, PPC chair Gary Mariano noted the potential of a strong PPC in solving complaints against the press. With an invigorated PPC, he said, the real winners will be the journalists. “Journalists with fewer libel cases because grievances are quickly settled at the Council. Journalists remaining free because legislative threats are preempted by effective self regulation. And journalists staying alive, yet fighting as ever, because complainants do not escalate beyond an exchange of e-mails or faxes.”

I met Mei Lubis when she went to the office telling her case. Her story reflected the difficulties community journalists have to face in reporting the truth in their communities. I just hope she won’t be the 55th.

By the way, check out the upcoming November issue of the PJR Reports. Mei is our writer for the issue’s “Back Page” section, telling us her story.

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