Amid our continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bulatlat denounces the discrimination against the alternative media perpetuated by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
Much as we reiterate our opposition to the unnecessary requirement of media accreditation to go to quarantine areas, Bulatlat sent an application under protest last March 17 to ensure unhampered coverage. Two days later (March 19), we re-sent our application as we failed to get any reply. Last March 22, we called someone from the International Press Center (IPC) to inquire about our application. She told us that she does not remember seeing our application and said her office is prioritizing mainstream media (which we understand to be the big media outfits) for accreditation. When asked why, she said that the IATF instructed them to limit the number of journalists to be given the special pass. She added the IPC has so far received 10,000 applications and allowing all these media workers to go out during the quarantine period “might cause the spread of the virus.”
Just for the record, the publicly available guidelines released by the IATF these past few days do not distinguish between the dominant/mainstream and alternative media. In fact, News and Information Bureau (NIB)-IPC Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay said in a statement last March 19 that “[n]o application for media pass shall be DENIED but due to the ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE guidelines prescribed by the IATF-EID Diseases to restrict the movement of people as a stringent measure to stop the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus Diseas (Covid-19), IPC defers it to the recommending media outfits/agencies to take prudence in the list of personnel submitted to the IPC.” (all caps not ours)
Confronted by this situation, the IPC staff said that online media outfits could just work at home. When told that this is unfair, she said we can still use our media IDs to move around. It seems that the PCOO and IATF are themselves confused with their own guidelines. Rules are being revised arbitrarily, all at the expense of press freedom. This only proves the inutility of accreditation.
We cannot help but point out the discrimination against small, non-profit media outfits. Denying us access to areas under quarantine, which is the entire Luzon, is outright censorship reminiscent of Martial Law. The PCOO and IATF’s measures essentially deny the public additional sources of information and analyses during this time of crisis.
Given the track record of PCOO in red-baiting selected journalists and media workers, we see this discrimination as a form of media repression. If the PCOO thinks that the alternative media will be silenced at a time when the people are hungry for information free from the trappings of government-backed propaganda and “fake news,” the powers-that-be should think again.
With or without accreditation, Bulatlat remains committed in pursuing journalism for the people. We strongly denounce the discrimination perpetuated by the leadership of the PCOO and IATF. We can only sympathize with the understaffed and overworked personnel of the IPC who are forced to implement an unnecessary order that results in media repression.