What press freedom means, what it does not

What press freedom means, what it does not

First word THOSE who quickly lined up behind Rappler and its journalist Pia Ranada to back their claim that their right to freedom of the press has been violated by the Duterte government, should understand the scope and meaning of press freedom as protected by our Constitution, and should review whether they have presented their positions in the best light.

BY YEN MAKABENTA ON FEBRUARY 24, 2018

THOSE who quickly lined up behind Rappler and its journalist Pia Ranada to back their claim that their right to freedom of the press has been violated by the Duterte government, should understand the scope and meaning of press freedom as protected by our Constitution, and should review whether they have presented their positions in the best light.

I mean particularly the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap), because its statement on the issue looks automatic, and Focap journalist-members carry on their word the prestige and influence of their foreign principals, who presumably are more discerning and seasoned regarding press freedom issues.

Focap members should be able to construe press freedom strictly according to its legal meaning and not stretch it to encompass more rights than are warranted by law. This way, they can avoid suggesting that attending news briefings or doing media coverage are protected rights in themselves.

Constitutional provision
The constitutional provision on press freedom (Article III, Section 4) reads: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The provision repeats in the same language the provision of the1935 and1987 constitutions, which attests that press freedom has a long history in this country. And no new government can capriciously change it.

It is curious that the provision covers a host of freedoms – freedom of speech, of expression, of the press, and freedom of assembly. The phrase “of expression” was added by the 1986 Charter-framers so that, according to one Charter-maker, mimicry could also be protected.

Right to publish, broadcast and post
Freedom of the press, in its original conception, meant simply the right to publish. When the term press evolved to include the electronic media (TV and radio), the right was broadened to mean also “the right to broadcast.” Now that media online have also been admitted into the club, the right means also the “right to post online.”

When we restrict press freedom to these meanings, it should be plain that in the current case involving Ms Ranada, there has been no violation of her press freedom. She remains free to post her stories in the Internet through the Rappler website.

She, of course, will argue that her ability to cover the Palace was curtailed by the Presidential Security Group (PSG) when it stopped her from entering the Palace to attend a media briefing.

Readers, let us be clear. Press freedom is inescapably circumscribed by limits, such as the policies set by the agencies or personages who are giving a briefing or interview. Interview subjects can refuse to talk to you. They have rules for accrediting journalists.

In the present case of Ms Ranada, we have a situation where President Duterte gave instructions that she should not be accredited to cover the Palace or his office.

Did President Duterte strangle press freedom when he expressed discomfort with Ranada’s questioning, and then decided to exclude her from Palace briefings?

In the US, the White House is known to periodically bar some journalists on the instructions of its principal occupant.

Read more of the opinion at The Manila Times

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