Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 33              September 21 - 27, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Unionism as a Deterrent to Violence vs Media

Unionism in media will definitely ensure the protection of the economic rights and welfare of journalists and other media workers. While it is not the solution to media repression, the projection of media consolidation and organization through unions will make unscrupulous individuals and groups think twice about harassing and intimidating journalists.


While the number of Filipino journalists killed since 1986 varies depending on the media group that monitors the situation, the extent of media repression cannot be ignored. (The discrepancy, after all, is mainly due to differences in the definition of journalist.)

This year, the Philippines already equaled Columbia in terms of number of journalists killed, making both countries the most dangerous places in the world to practice the profession.

All media groups agree that for the first nine months of 2003, six journalists have been killed. They are John Belen Villanueva, Jr., (DZGB, killed last April 28); Apolinario Pobeda (DWTI, killed last May 17); Bonifacio Gregorio (Dyaryo Banat, killed last July 8); Noel Villarante (The Laguna Score/DZJV, killed last Aug. 19); Rico Ramirez (DXSF, killed last Aug. 20); and Juan Pala (DXGO, killed last Sept. 6).

Unionism in media

At a time when harassment and intimidation are done subtly or overtly, it becomes even more important to promote unionism in media. In the long run, it can help deter media repression that journalists, especially those in the provinces, go through.

Unionism in media will not just help protect the economic rights and welfare of journalists and other media workers. More important at this point, a projection of media consolidation and organization will make unscrupulous individuals and groups think twice about threatening journalists.

It should be clarified, however, that unionism thus is not the panacea to the current trend of violence against media. The establishment of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on 30 July 1988, for instance, did not prevent the killing of journalists left and right. The NUJP, among others, helps promote unionism among journalists.

During the term of former President Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), it is interesting to note that 16 journalists were killed, according to Media for Peace which consolidated data from NUJP and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). (Documentation by the Philippine Movement for Press Freedom revealed however that the actual number of journalists killed during this period is 34. Bulatlat.com has reported that the number of media persons killed since the Aquino presidency has reached 71. )

At present, increased violence against media happens at a time when unionism is relatively weak and not consolidated. That perpetrators continue to threaten journalists and do not have qualms about killing them is due to the current lack of strong organization among media workers.

Putting a stop to the killing, however, will demand more than unionism since the media situation only mirrors the current trend of exploitation and oppression in Philippine society.

One cannot divorce harsh realities in mass media from current moves to quell social unrest, as manifested by the recent series of violent dispersal in Makati City and Manila. Aside from this, the police also warned those who will stage protest actions when U.S. President George Bush visits the country on Oct. 18 that they would be dispersed if they do not have a permit to rally. A legislator even mentioned that aside from tear gas and water cannons, rubber bullets could even be used against demonstrators by that time.

Need to decriminalize libel

Just like cause-oriented groups and individuals, journalists are subjected to harassment and intimidation, one of the most common being the filing of libel charges.

Because libel is currently classified as a criminal act, a journalist can be easily arrested and detained if a case is filed against him or her.

Calls to decriminalize libel were largely ignored in the past, but one should stress its importance now in order to ensure that its filing will not be done to instill fear of arrest and detention among journalists.

Lip service to press freedom

Recent events show that the powers-that-be pay lip service to freedom of the press.

The management of GMA Channel 7, citing editorial concerns particularly the lack of documentary evidence, did not allow the airing last Sept. 16 of The Probe Team’s episode on the “lifestyle check” of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Efraim Genuino. GMA 7 denied pressure from any interest groups and stressed that the episode will be aired, provided that supporting documents particularly on Genuino’s involvement in a number of corporations are presented. As of this writing, both parties are trying to talk things out so that the said episode will be finally allowed airtime.

Last Sept. 17, Valencia City Mayor Jose Galacia ordered the closure of dxMV Radyo Ukay in Bukidnon. According to him, dxMV was being “used as (an) instrument of political war by (a) certain broadcaster (thus) agitating the public on certain public issues.” Various media groups denounced Galacia’s order and consequently organized protest actions.

At around the same time, Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong warned artists who impersonate the President that they “could face criminal charges if they do so in a malicious manner.” These statements could be considered a threat to press freedom especially now that there are reports of destabilization plots against the administration.

Needless to say, political satire is a manifestation of freedom of expression. It serves to both entertain and give a critique of the goings-on in society.

The Arroyo administration must not therefore vent its ire on entertainers who are just doing their jobs and, being professionals, are aware of how far they can go in their portrayal of the President.

Commitment, not just employment

The current situation should not discourage students from pursuing a career in journalism and mass media. Even if most of those killed were provincial journalists, it is hoped that mass communication graduates will still help make a difference in the community press.

At this point, both mass communication students and professional journalists must keep in mind that journalism must not be seen as a ticket to fame, though the prospects for it abound.

Journalism, after all, is not just a matter of employment but also an issue of commitment. And this commitment is not just measured by one’s resolve to make a difference individually, but by one’s solidarity with colleagues in the profession. Bulatlat.com

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