On Press Freedom

carte2014_en

Image source: http://rsf.org/index2014/data/carte2014_en.png

“Come writers and critics, who prophesize with your pen,

And keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again,

And don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin,

And there’s no tellin’ who it’s namin’,

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times, they are a-changin’.”

–Bob Dylan, “The Times They are a-Changin’”

Being a journalist is not as easy as many perceive. For one, collecting data may include diving in a pool of mud merely to obtain one tiny piece of information; Writing an article may involve struggling with writers’ block in the middle of a well-begun piece; Reporting live for an event may demand being at a certain place at an impossible time; Distributing information may entail spending beyond one’s net worth. The deadlines do not help either. Then after all these, journalists have to deal with criticism from all sides.

Nonetheless, all these are minimal relative to something journalists in various countries have to deal with: the suppression of the freedom of the press. In response to this, in December 1993, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day. According to the UN, this annual celebration is an occasion to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.” This event is commemorated this year with the theme: “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda.” Its focal point is centered on “the media’s importance in development, the safety of journalists and the rule of law, and the sustainability and integrity of journalism.”

However, despite the efforts of the UN, the freedom of the press is still in a threatened state in many countries. According to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index released by the France-based non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders (French: Reporters Sans Frontières, RFS), the press of the majority of the nations throughout the world is vulnerable to danger. Just in the past few days, Chinese journalist Gao Yu has disappeared just weeks before the 25th anniversary of the Tiannamen Square Massacre. In Cuba, journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz has been charged with terrorism without evidence. In Saudi Arabia, human rights blogger Fadhel al-Manasif has been sentenced to be imprisoned for 15 years followed by another 15 years of travel ban due his participation in peaceful protests of political reform. As of May 2014,  36 journalists and media personnel worldwide have been killed this year according to the International News Safety Institute (INSI).

The Philippines is evidently not exempt from these threats to press freedom. According to the same index from RFS, the Philippine press is in a “difficult situation.” Moreover, the organization ranked our country 149th among 180 in the index. This placement indicates that we may still be miles away from attaining total press freedom. To make matters worse, the rank of the Philippines in the index has continued to drop from previous years. Our nation ranked 147 in 2013, which in itself is a seven-point fall from its rank in the 2012 index. This worsening condition of the Philippine press is manifested through various means.

One of the most evident signs of the danger of the Philippine press was the infamous Maguindanao Massacre in the morning of Nov. 23, 2009. According to a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, out of the 58 murdered individuals, 34 are journalists, with only 25 being positively identified. Despite this harrowing number of victims, now, about four years after the event, legal proceedings against the accused Ampatuan clan move at a slow pace due to the many defendants and witnesses involved.

Aside from the aforementioned massacre, the deaths of journalists have grown rampant in the country. According to a report by the INSI, 12 journalists and one media worker were killed in the Philippines last 2013; marking our nation the third most dangerous country for journalists that year. Out of these 13, nine were murdered by unknown assailants. However, an even grimmer fact is that this number has been continuously increasing throughout the years. Two media personnel were killed in 2011. This increased to eight in 2012.

Another threat against press freedom in our country is Republic Act No. 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Section 4-C-4 of the said act criminalizes online libel. This section was written so vaguely that, in effect, it curtails online freedom of speech. Despite backlash from the online community, the Supreme Court ruled that online libel is constitutional on Feb. 18, 2014. This poses a serious threat as supposedly harmless statements online could lead to accusations of libel, further endangering press freedom and freedom of expression in the process.

With threats to their lives left and right, journalists certainly walk a dangerous path. However, by following their example of integrity, we can cause ripples of change, not only to help them, but also to repair our damaged society. The vigilance and truthfulness embodied by journalists can upset the current unjust system that rules over us. Indeed, the powerful have the ability to bend society to their whim and do everything to stop us; they can threaten us and the ones we love; they can cut our freedom of expression; they can even elect to kill us. However, they do not have the power to stop ideas of progress that drive a nation to development.

This is the true essence of the World Press Freedom Day. This celebration is not solely intended to protect journalists but also serves as a wake-up call from our ignorance about the endangered state of the media. We have to be aware that journalists deliver to us important information about the events unfolding around us, and without these people, we are blindfolded individuals in an unlit room.

Definitely, the state of the media is apparently beyond salvation. However, it is not if we take part in being journalists in our own ways. Let us be honest and watchful. Let us be examples that affirm that the times are truly changing.

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