by Cong B. Corrales
LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL media groups slammed the proposed Magna Carta for Journalists filed recently in the lower house of Congress by Reps. Rufus and Maximo Rodriguez, calling it “illogical” and “misleading.”
The bill, while recognizing the need to improve the welfare and safety of journalists and their dependents, however provides for an accreditation or licensing scheme for members of the fourth estate, an idea long opposed by press freedom advocates.
House Bill 2550 seeks to create the Professional Journalist Examination and the Philippine Council for Journalists, which will require aspiring journalists in broadcast, print, and photography to pass an accreditation examination.
“We do not wish to denigrate the undoubtedly good intentions of the brothers Rodriguez but perhaps they missed reading the news a few months back when media organizations turned down a similar bill filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada,” said National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Rowena Paraan.
“What about ‘Thanks but no thanks’ do the brothers Rufus and Maximo Rodriguez not understand?” Paraan asked.
Paraan said journalists oppose “any and all attempts to subject journalism to any form of accreditation or licensing.”
“While it is true that journalism is a profession within the media industry, it is first and foremost part of the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and of expression,” she added.
Under HB 2550, those who fail the accreditation exam may still work in media outfits under different roles. Those who have been practicing journalism for ten years or more are no longer required to take the accreditation exam.
“It is necessary for the enactment of a law that will ensure a living wage, an atmosphere conducive to productive journalism work, reiterate value of ethics, provide for development programs that will deepen the practice of their profession, and promote the defense and protection of freedom and human rights of journalists and their organizations,” the explanatory note of the two lawmakers reads.
However Paraan pointed out that anyone should be allowed to practice journalism as a means of free expression without being subjected to discrimination through some “misguided criteria.”
“It would be akin to determining who can and cannot speak out freely,” she said.
In a separate statement, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had harsher words for the bill, calling it an assault on press freedom. The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries.
“This bill appears to be a scurrilous attempt to introduce licensing of journalists. It is offensive to cloak such a horrendous assault on press freedom by utilizing the name of one of the great documents of civil rights. The bill aims to set up several categories of journalist, to treat them differently and has the potential to punish any that don’t meet a set of criteria imposed from the outside,” the IFJ said in a statement.
“If politicians in the Philippines truly want to emulate the Magna Carta then they should focus more on the public’s right to know by passing the long-delayed Freedom of Information Bill and other measures that allow media keep their communities informed. And in the weeks leading-up to the fourth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, greater effort must be made by all those in power to combat the outrageous culture of impunity that aims to silence the media by killing journalists and allowing the perpetrators to get away with murder,” the IFJ statement said.
Rather than pursuing HB 2550, the NUJP advised the Rodriguez brothers to support House Bill 2568 penned by Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, instead.
“Instead of pushing their bill, we suggest that the Rodriguezes support instead the passage of the People’s FOI Bill and Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones’ House Bill 2568, which would require government agencies to act promptly on requests for information from media, perhaps even help improve the latter measure by including all requests for information from citizens of the Republic,” the NUJP statement reads.