Wednesday, March 01, 2006

No arguments needed to justify press freedom - Samahang Plaridel

From the PCIJ blog:

Here is the statement from Samahang Plaridel, which is composed of senior journalists, on what is happening today:

It’s a travesty on our history that we have to argue the inviolability of the freedom of speech and expression, familiarly known as the Freedom of the Press, in a free, democratic, and open society.

In the 19th century, Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar (Plaridel). Graciano Lopez Jaena, and other illustrious Filipinos exiled themselves, formed the Propaganda Movement, published La Solidarida, fought as writers, forbears of journalists, for Filipino freedom. Inherent in the struggle is the freedom of the press.

In the 12 years of martial rule, Filipino journalists along with the freedom-fighters wrote, again in exile, while those who remained in the country did so clandestinely – as virtual exiles.

Today, Proclamation 1017 patently exiles journalists through censorship and in doing so banishes in exile the bedrock liberty of a democratic society.

The government’s imposition of "standards", intimidating sectors in media into asking for "guidelines" from government, is without precedent in a democracy. It is not even sanctioned by our Constitution, which provides that even under Martial Law, civil liberties will be respected.

History clearly shows that civil liberties are irreparably impaired without press freedom.

History shows that a free and independent press is a conservative rather than a disruptive force of a free society. The press does not subvert but instead promotes democracy, that by freely reporting on events and freely and vigorously commenting on them, a free people is able to protect itself from the inevitable abuse of power. A free press is the people’s defense against deception, intimidation, and subjugation from forces inimical to their welfare.

Only in despotic regimes is a free press considered a subversive force, for it is subversive of the arbitrary exercise of power, subversive of conditions that "exalts the few over the degradation of the many," subversive of the despotism of armed duplicity.

Let lawyers and constitutionalists argue the legal merits of Proclamation 1017.

We in PLARIDEL need no arguments to justify the freedom of the press. We find it degrading o have to argue for a sacrosanct freedom that is the shining mark of civil society and the one guarantor of every man’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A government, nay, a free society that cannot see this has already enslaved itself.

We are informed by the PNP that they are reading all the newspapers and are "evaluating" what we are writing, as if policemen have brains enough to understand the minds of reporters, editors, photographers, cartoonists and columnists. As for the radio and television stations, the one doing the "evaluating" is the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

What will befall the newspaper or the radio or television station were we to fail the "evaluation"? The threat is that the newspaper or broadcast station could be closed down. Thus, even the most principled journalist has a Damocles sword hanging over him. One may not care one whit what happens to himself as a person as long as he can continue to be a principled journalist.

There are, however, so many others – jobs and persons- to consider. If a media outlet is closed down – no matter that this is in contravention of all that is sacred to us, including our Constitution – a lot of people who work as technicians, lay-out artists, circulation personnel, typesetters, transmitter personnel, cameramen and others automatically lose their livelihood.

Thus, there is pressure on journalists – whether in print or broadcast – to toe the line, to make an effort to pass the "evaluating" by lesser persons who are cretins when compared to those that they would "evaluate."

While we took our chances during martial law, even to violating presidential decrees almost on a daily basis, there seems no point in taking chances today. After all, under Marcos, martial law was a serious matter, taken seriously by all of us.

Today, we all know that all the State of Emergency is out to achieve is to stop the truth – on already so many subjects – from fully revealing itself. It is a lost battle, of course, since it is in the nature of truth that it will surely reveal itself. She can, perhaps, delay this until 2010 and perhaps beyond but truth will out, eventually if not sooner.

A State of Emergency has been declared when the only emergency is that caused by the continuing rule of incompetents who have no concept of how to run a bureaucracy in a democratic environment. Thus, they become despots, which is, sadly, all that they can hope to be. And, they will not even be good even at being despots.

Edmund Burke is quoted to have said: "Three Estates in Parliament; but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth estate more important far than they all".

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." –Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787.

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