“Erring on the Side of Repression “

Below is the statement of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication professors on Gloriagate scandal and the controversial National Telecommunications Commission press release, discouraging the media from airing the supposedly wiretapped tapes.

This statement was signed by 18 faculty members of theUP CMC led by Dean Nicanor G. Tiongson. For verification, please call Prof. Danilo A. Arao (Chair, Department of Journalism) at 920-6852 or (0917) 833-ARAO.

19 June 2005

Erring on the Side of Repression

The undersigned faculty members of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Mass Communication express grave concern over the governments treatment of mass media in their coverage of the allegedly wiretapped conversation between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and an official of the Commission on Elections(COMELEC).

A National Telecommunications Commissions (NTC) press release reminds 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. The NTC even warned that if the tapes 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).

If the government truly supports self-regulation in media, the NTCs reminder is unnecessary and even uncalled for. Given the volatile political situation, media organizations cannot be blamed if the NTCs reminder is construed as an assault on freedom of the press and _expression. After all, what is the point in reminding media practitioners of policies that they are already assumed to be aware of?

Neither does it help the government any for the Justice Secretary to be quoted as saying that he has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI) to go after media organizations found to have caused the spread, the playing and the printing of the contents of the allegedly wiretapped conversation. If wiretapping is illegal, then those who allegedly wiretapped the conversation are the ones who should be held liable, not the media organizations that report the alleged illegal activity.

We believe that the truth is better served if mass media are allowed to present the data and analyses that they gather, free from pressure from government regulatory bodies and other agencies.

Media organizations are duty-bound to report not only the contents of the allegedly wiretapped conversation but also related events as they unfold, particularly government officials handling of the situation and the reactions of various interest groups. These are matters of national interest.

Instead of trying to discourage the mass media from airing the allegedly wiretapped conversation, government officials should instead correct whatever inaccuracy or unfair reporting is committed by particular media agencies. Instead of being silent on these supposed inaccuracies and biases, and issuing statements likely to be construed as threats to the mass media and free_expression, providing sober and objective clarifications of media reports is crucial to the shaping of informed public opinion.

We call on government to treat journalists as responsible individuals who may be justly criticized only if they engage in unethical and irresponsible media practice, and not for doing their job of providing the public information crucial to the understanding of political and governance issues. The governments handling of media at this point shows that the former is not erring on the side of caution, but on the side of media repression. #

From Manila Indymedia

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