Nonoy Espina of the NUJP called on state security forces to understand what media do — that they are being critical not just because it wants to but because it needs to as the fourth estate.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – A day before the tenth year commemoration of the gruesome Ampatuan massacre, a roadmap on journalist safety has been launched.
Journalist safety has been an unresolved issue in the country. Media killings in the Philippines have reached its height with the Ampatuan massacre that took place 10 years ago, which left 58 killed, 32 of them were journalists and media workers.
Under the Duterte administration, 13 journalists have been killed. Cases of intimidation, threats, red-tagging and cyber attacks have also been documented.
No less than the president, his alter-egos, and state security forces, too, have issued public pronouncements, red-tagging members of the media.
Red-tagging has been known to lead to graver rights abuses, including killings, which Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility deputy executive director Luis Teodoro dubbed as the “worst form of censorship.”
The question, however, arising from the panel discussion is whether the national plan of action can finally provide a “common ground” and “clear the air” towards paving a safe working condition for journalists in the Philippines.
A first of its kind
Dubbed as “a first of its kind in the world,” the plan of action was developed through multi-stakeholder consultations with media, government, and members of the academe, and local and international press freedom groups.
Consultations, too, were sought from concerned government agencies, including the Philippine military and the police forces.
In fact, International Media Support head for Asia Lars Bestle said the media and journalism community did not know what a national plan of action could look like until today.
Adhering to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, the Philippine Plan provided a roadmap for addressing five areas that were deemed crucial to improving journalist safety for the next years until 2024.
These are: integrity and professionalism, conducive working conditions, safety and protection mechanisms, criminal justice system, and the public information, journalism education, and research.
It also adopted the “4Ps” paradigm used in the UN Trafficking in Persons protocol, referring to Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership.
“Crafting the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists gives us a sense of optimism that we can address the scourges of press freedom in the country. Not to plan is to surrender our fate. Not to plan should not be an option for the Philippines and many other countries worldwide experiencing similar challenges,” said Ramon Tuazon, president of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), the lead agency that crafted the roadmap.
Tuazon said the stakeholders they worked with “may represent diverse interests and backgrounds, but we have a common goal: to safeguard press freedom in the Philippines.”
He added that the process of crafting the plan “sought to break down the walls between sectors and within sectors at the national and community levels.”
UP Mass Communication associate professor and Bulatlat associate editor Danilo Arao, for his part, said that “partnership” does not mean “absolution” of those guilty – “not just individually but also institutional.”
To carry out the plans stipulated in the roadmap, however, the need to establish a “common ground” and for state forces to understand why media needs to be critical seemed to be a strong sentiment during the launch.
No less than Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana said during the panel discussion that the government needs to be sincere in protecting journalists by ensuring that perpetrators will be held to account.
Abraham Agamata of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security said they were able to interact with various stakeholders despite limited budget, including the pushing for the proposed law on media workers welfare as its concrete output.
He also said that apart from government agencies, media groups were also part of the task force. This was later clarified by veteran journalist Nonoy Espina, also head of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, that they were merely invited as resource persons.
The NUJP has disengaged with the task force because they could no longer find a “common ground.” But Espina said NUJP remains open to an “honest” engagement, especially in light of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.
Espina called on state security forces to understand what media do — that they are being critical not just because it wants to but because it needs to as the fourth estate.
Arao said the challenge now is to expose media practitioners not just skills-wise but also on journalist safety, with state forces as among the perpetrators.
Arao said it is important that educational institutions teach students to become critical, even though they are at times red-baited. He added that the academe also plays an important role in shaping media literate students.