PGTW: Does This Make Sense To You?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 15 August 2013, Thursday

Does This Make Sense To You?

Senator Jinggoy Estrada refiled Senate Bill No. 380 last July 13 that, among other provisions, requires journalists to take a yearly “Professional Journalist Examination” for accreditation.

Dubbed “The Magna Carta for Journalists”, the explanatory note to the proposed act states that the aim is to enhance basic rights “by promoting the welfare and protection of journalism in the country.”

It calls journalists “purveyors of truth” who “risk life and limb” to do their job and that the enactment of this law is necessary to “ensure a living wage, an atmosphere conducive to productive journalism work, reiterate value [sic] of ethics, provide for development of programs that will deepen [sic – was this a transliteration from the Tagalog laliman?] the practice of their profession, and promote the defense and protection of freedom and human rights of journalists and their organizations.”

Eight media organizations are to form an umbrella organization to be called “The Philippine Council for Journalists.” They are to accredit journalists by conducting the annual exam, maintain a database of these “accredited” journalists, conduct training seminars that are a pre-requisite to accreditation, and come up with a Code of Ethics, among other functions.

This bill raises many questions. Why only those eight particular organizations? What sort of seminars – is this supposed to be something like the lawyers’ MCLE? Who gets to create the exam questions? Who’ll check them? And so on.

Any law that seeks to regulate the “fourth estate” in any way is discriminatory. The role of the Press, ideally, is to act in behalf of the people as a check-and-balance to the government and the church. Freedom of the press is necessary for news and opinion to be disseminated so that society will have truth at its disposal for decision-making and action-taking.

The Press should be able to operate without fear of censorship, suppression, and (especially true in our country) death; otherwise, the truth is compromised.

This is not to say there are no corrupt journalists or organizations. But there are laws that provide sanctions for erring journalists, such as libel laws; moreover, any news publication or network that desires to attain credibility will police its own ranks and weed out unethical and corrupt practitioners.

The Press, like many other institutions, has to be to a great extent self-regulatory because there is no law that can force anyone to uphold ethics or laws, if they are determined to flout them. That is why there are penalty provisions in laws, to punish violations.

What journalists need more than this so-called “accreditation” is the safety to pursue what in the Philippines is a dangerous profession, that poses more “risk to life and limb” than many other traditionally hazardous jobs.

For instance, take “horseracing jockey,” one of the riskiest occupations ever. How many Filipino jockeys have died as a direct result of having participated in a race? Since 1990 (to the best of my recollection), only one. He fell off his mount, went into a coma, and died in his bed a year later.

In contrast, how many Filipino journalists have lost their lives while chasing news or airing their opinions? Six days ago, Human Rights Watch posted this on their website:

“Journalism has long been a high-risk profession in the Philippines. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, some 73 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1992; local media groups put the number considerably higher. The Philippines consistently ranks as among the “top three” in the organization’s list of “deadliest countries” for journalists.”

How can this “Magna Carta for Journalists” prevent journalists and broadcasters from getting murdered? All it says is that any “reported killing, abduction, or harassment of a journalist” shall “be investigated with dispatch.” Isn’t this what law enforcers are obligated to do anyway?

The way this law is worded, it can’t even assure journalists a decent wage or that they be paid on time.

Must there be a law to require journalists to be examined as to their skill and ability and their grasp of ethics?

For that matter, who will check on the skill, ability, and ethics of senators?

The Constitution of the Philippines sets a low bar for senatorial qualifications: “Sec. 3. No person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and, on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.”

Are journalists then supposed to have better credentials than the senators of the land? How does that make sense?

But then again, I’ve given up expecting sense from many of the powers-that-be.

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