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The Flaw in the Bill

Posted By : jeffrey infante | Posted : August 22, 2014
Forum_The-Flaw-In-The-Bill

Illustration by: Dea Mendoza

 

A lot has been said in recent weeks about a senate bill proposed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada—a bill aiming to protect the rights of journalists and other media practitioners, as well as entitle them to certain benefits and privileges. I may be one of the last few who are still talking about it, but I guess another voice won’t hurt. The Senate Bill 380, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Journalists, is a call for annual professional exams for those who want to become accredited journalists. The exam, to be conducted by a proposed Philippine Center for Journalists (PCJ), is optional, but those who don’t take or pass the exam would be labeled as non-accredited journalists. Meaning, they could still continue to “exercise their rights and duties as journalists,” but would have no access to all these so-called benefits and privileges.

 

The bill was met with dissent by the media, and rightfully so. The exam itself may be well-intentioned, but it is redundant and discriminatory. I also agree with a number of media watchdogs that have expressed concern over how the bill is less about rights and privileges, and more about restriction. In fact, it is quite astonishing how Estrada failed to see the constitutional flaw of his bill. The senator must understand that journalism sets its own standards. It is ideally independent from government influence. This is how we practice freedom of the press. As a non-practicing journalist with all journalistic principles still in tact, I admit that I was slightly offended by the proposed bill. Despite the risk it takes to be a journalist in this country, I can still see myself pursuing a career in mass media in the future. It does not comfort me in any way, however, to know that the government is willing to protect me and shower me with sweet perks—but that is after I take, and pass, a certain accreditation test. It just doesn’t seem right. Anyone who is at least familiar with the amount of training journalists go through would agree.

 

As far as media safety is concerned, the bill was also written with blatant disregard for what it means to be a journalist in the Philippines, where attacks on journalists continue despite our so-called democracy. Covering only the immediate investigation of violence and threats against journalists, which is in fact a practice that is already in place (albeit rather slow and inefficient most of the time), Estrada’s bill still fails to address the root of all threats and harassments against Filipino journalists. To protect journalists is to prevent unlawful acts being done to them in the first place. What we need is a concrete protection scheme, not a law that merely duplicates what is already being done. Alas, another goal presented by the bill was to “motivate and encourage journalists to perform duties as truthful and responsible informers of the people.” This seems rather irrelevant, as it is already the job of journalists to do so. He’d be surprised how good journalists are at their job once they are left alone to do it.

 

To sum up, journalists do not need another regulatory body that seeks to subject them to unnecessary scrutiny in exchange for vague offers of privileges and protection. Freedom of the press is a privilege in itself, and the most important protection journalists need is that against people, who, from a position of power, try to control and manipulate them.

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