Macapagal-Arroyo Administration Resorts to `Soft’ Media Censorship

In an earlier article, I argued that this constitutes de facto censorship, given that “(t)here is…a trend right now for the MTRCB to be used in preventing the spread of what the powers-that-be deem as counter-propaganda. In fact, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) even issued an alert on August 23 that the MTRCB demanded from the producers of a new public affairs show of ABC 5 the deletion of some portions of its first episode featuring the New People’s Army (NPA).”

Clearly, the continued existence of the MTRCB gives the powers-that-be the opportunity to censor opposing views. The possibility of disseminating information on the Internet should not be seen as a consolation since the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) could flex its muscles to block Internet content as practiced in other countries like China.

While the NTC is only tasked to “allocate frequencies to TV and radio stations,” it has tried to meddle with the radio and TV coverage of issues. At the height of the wiretapped conversation allegedly between the President and an election official, the NTC issued a press release reminding radio and television stations, “especially all broadcasters, to be careful and circumspect in the handling of news reportage, coverages (sic) of current affairs and discussion of public issues.” It even warned that if the tapes of the wiretapped conversation are found to be “false and/or fraudulent…the concerned radio and television (companies’) broadcast/airing of such false information and/or willful misrepresentation shall be just cause for the suspension, revocation and/or cancellation of the licenses or authorizations issued to (them).”

This situation proves the attempt of NTC to interfere with media content so one should be mindful of how it will exert its influence not only on radio and television but also on new media, particularly the Internet.

A more direct form of media under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration is Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 which put the country in a state of national emergency from February 24 to March 3, 2006. The implications on media practice of PP 1017 may be summed up in the statement signed by 124 students, faculty members and staff of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC): “Proclamation No. 1017 and General Order No. 5…(were) used by the government to quell legitimate dissent as manifested by the arrests of demonstrators and so-called conspirators to bring down the President. We can conclude from the raid on the broadsheet The Daily Tribune and the tight watch by the military on other media agencies that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration is savaging press freedom.”

Aside from these covert measures which the powers-that-be tried to justify as not being moves to subvert the press and free expression, there are indirect measures done by the State to silence the media.

The following instances in the most recent past are worth noting:

* Kodao Productions did not only suffer the axing of its award-winning radio program (of which I used to be one of the co-hosts) on the day Macapagal-Arroyo declared a state of national emergency. In March 2006, it was also accused of being a propaganda unit of the communists by a Malacañang state witness named Jaime Fuentes.
* Radyo Cagayano on July 2, 2006 was burned allegedly by elements of the 5th Infantry Division who previously spread black propaganda, accusing it as the radio station of the New People’s Army (NPA).
* Editors and staff of the Philippine Collegian (official student publication of UP) stressed that its funds are being withheld by the UP administration. The latter invoked a provision in Republic Act No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) that “procurement by government units amounting to P250,000 and above shall be done through a bidding process, administered by the UP administration.” At first glance, there should be nothing wrong with complying with this condition but should student fees, just because they are collected by the UP administration, be already classified as government funds? The IRR of the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 clearly states, “The printing of the student publication by a private printer shall be conducted by the editorial board and the student publication staff through canvass or public bidding.”

Obviously, these are not direct forms of censorship. Very much unlike Martial Law, there are no media regulatory bodies that screen media content prior to printing or airing. However, there are currently various mechanisms for prior restraint and the powers-that-be use both legal and extra-legal measures to quell dissent by silencing the messengers, at times through harassment and intimidation, even to the point of murder.

Death as ultimate form of censorship

As early as 1990, Maslog has described the killing of journalists, as “ultimate form of censorship” (44). Indeed, 34 journalists were killed in the Philippines from 1972 to 1986, according to the Philippine Movement for Press Freedom (PMPF). Data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines show that 83 journalists were killed from 1986 to July 31, 2006. Of this number, 46 journalists have been killed since Macapagal-Arroyo became president in 2001.

It is the administration’s responsibility to create an atmosphere conducive to the practice of the media profession. There is cogent reason to take the current dispensation to task for its failure to bring to justice those who are responsible for the murders. Despite the conviction of a police officer in November 2005 for the murder of a Pagadian-based award-winning journalist, the unabated killings continue to the point where the Philippines now holds the distinction of being next to Iraq in terms number of journalists killed, based on data from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


Observers note that what is happening now is soft censorship. With the exception of PP 1017 that had a more direct form of censorship, the powers-that-be are using veiled threats for the media not to highlight information that can put the current administration in a bad light.

Indeed, Marcos and Macapagal-Arroyo have something in common as far as media censorship is concerned. B (

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