Monday, September 2, 2013

A magna carta for journalists?

By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 21, 2013

The Magna Carta for Journalists or S.B. 380 filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada stirred another controversy. It did not pass when it was first filed in the 14th Congress. This time, it is supported by a counterpart bill by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The bill will create a Philippine Council of Journalists (PCJ) which would accredit journalists and conduct seminars. Those who pass the examination will be accredited. Non-accredited journalists - those who fail or do not take the test will not be issued the card but will enjoy privileges that their employees give.

It promises several sweeteners – “security of tenure, a living wage, humane conditions of work, comprehensive benefits enjoyed by others in the labor force”. It hopes to motivate journalists “to perform their duties as responsible informers of the people”. Those who have been in practice for 10 years will be exempt from the exam but will be interviewed by the PCJ before they are accredited.

But critics had voiced out one objection after another. Most of them come from the proposed members of the council- the PCJ which will be constituted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the National Press Club (NPC), the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Federation of Provincial Journalists (PFPJ), the Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP), the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), the Publishers Association of the Philippines (PAP), among others.

CMFR’s (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility) statement argues that the need of the hour is to standardize wages in terms of equal pay for equal work and to assure job security. It further explains the reality of the journalism profession why it differs from other professions: “There are wide disparities in wages and benefits dependent upon variables such as whether a journalist is employed as a foreign wire service, is based in Manila or the communities, reports for a tabloid or broadsheet, works behind the scenes in TV or appears on camera”.

A possible repercussion from this law according to NUJP Chairperson Rowena Paraan is that it could “create a window for discrimination among journalists”. Journalist groups believe that journalists should only be subjected to qualifications imposed by outfits they work for, and for the self-employed, the code of ethics. Atty. Mel Sta. Maria cites objections that have been noted by other critics: “ it could empower State to control the profession; politicization of Council (infiltration of powerful parties and government, political abuse); discriminates against non-accredited parties – bloggers and citizen journalists; could lead to censorship and is totally unnecessary. Journalists are believed to be self-made, not a product of stock knowledge but of professional skills and work ethics and that a licensing system could put rogue journalists under direct or indirect payroll of government.

There are valid arguments for the organization of associations of the journalism profession – that it could “facilitate the development of a coherent system of values and principles, and so constitute the public order, that is, if that term was understood widely, notes the Intra-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which cites “legitimate reasons” for creation of associations and licensing: first, it appears to be the “normal” way to regulate the profession in many countries (but not in the non- democracies, ); second, it sought to promote higher professional and ethical standards which would benefit society and ensure the right of the public to receive full and truthful information; and third, it guarantees the independence of journalists in relation to their employees

IACHR however emphasizes that “public order would benefit more from scrupulous respect for freedom of expression”. Freedom of expression is not conceivable without free debate… and that dissenting voices be fully heard. It is in the interest of..public order that the right of each individual ..and society be.. respected…In contrast to lawyers and physicians, the activities of journalists – seeking, receiving, and imparting information and ideas – are specifically protected as a human right, namely, right to freedom of information…A system that controls the right of expression in the name of..guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information…can be a source of great abuse, and ultimately violates the right to information.

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