April 21, 2000


Freedom of the Press Endangered in the Philippines

Filipino Editors expect reporters assigned to Malacañang (The Presidential Palace) to file "exciting stories" every day, according to a recent editorial published in the Manila Times, the premier newspaper in this Island country. "The Presidents' willingness to talk and his radio and TV shows have made work sweet and easy for reporters. The President candidly responds to every reporter who bars his way with a mike or mini-recorder. He freely says what he has in mind. Every off-the-cuff remark from (President) Estrada is grist for the media mill. Unfortunately some reporters, commentators and editors have a propensity to quote him out of context or read omens of sinister policy where there is but a vocabulary or an intellectual shortcoming. These wrong readings are turned into juicy headlines that add to the newspapers or TV stations popular appeal. But they diminish this nation. They serve to further weaken the peoples faculties and fill their mind with trivia and unessential that are fodder for gossip and pseudo-analysis..."

It is clear that the media is under attack by the country's ruling party. Freedom of the press may be a thing of the past in the Philippines. The Publisher and Editors of the Manila Times are obviously under extreme pressure by the government to publish an Editorial as they did .

"Malacañang's new method of dealing with the press," the Editorial continues, "should demand greater skills, higher levels of policy knowledge and more dedication from reporters covering the President. From now on they should be made to work as professionally as their counterparts in Europe and the United States do. That means they (the reporters) will have to attend daily press briefings given by the Press Secretary himself, or an aide. Every now and then, on special occasions, the reporters may see the President himself at press conferences. The Press Secretary and an expert, may be the Cabinet member directly involved in the issue, will be in attendance.

"In press briefings and press conferences, the reporters must listen and comprehend and ask questions. But they should come prepared and not treat these press activities as if these were as carefree as ambush interviews. Reporters should even be required to submit their questions before hand... At the end of the press briefings or press conference, each Malacañang reporter should get an in-depth press release. Not only the basic facts but also the policy direction... No more ambush interviews. President Estrada will henceforth answer questions from the press only through Press Secretary Puno. Cabinet secretaries will now also speak for themselves; The President will no longer aid them when they are questioned or rise in their defense when they are attacked.

If the President and the Cabinet members do what is right most of the time—and if the President sticks to the newly announced method of dealing with the media through Secretary Puno their unwitting feed of possible bad news to media will automatically stop."

It is disheartening to observe the leadership of the Manila Times so easily gave up the right of the press to report the news as they see it. It is not the right of the person being interviewed to `censor' what is being reported! The loss of freedom of the press can spell doom to `democratic' government in the Philippines . The government is now in the process of attempting to control, censor or even intimidate the publishers, editors and the reporting staff. We must wonder what is the government of the Philippines trying to hide?

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