By Chit Estella
April 30, 2006
The end of Proclamation 1017 did not bring about the end of the war between media and the Arroyo administration. If at all, it saw the beginning of a new period of distrust, a certainty among journalists that this leadership is up to no good in matters where media are concerned.
In facing down the administration, it was not just the Arroyo leadership that the journalists had in mind. Embedded in their memory were the years of Marcos rule when media was nothing more than a megaphone for the agenda of the dictator. Independent reporting and opinion-making were very risky undertakings, and self-censorship became the norm even for those who, at more conducive times, would have upheld press freedom. It was a bad time to be a journalist then.
That is why 34 years later under the Arroyo administration, despite the lifting of the insidiously indeterminate Proclamation 1017, media organizations and individuals pressed on with a petition. The plea asks the Court of Appeals to prohibit the government from interfering with media, in short, to leave media alone.
The reason for filing the petition was more than a perception of looming danger. In the period when 1017 was supposedly no more, it was learned that journalists were being monitored for their activities. No less than the justice secretary has continued to issue warnings against media and his assessment of its performance, all of them opinions that would put Marcos to shame. This issue’s main article about the state of post-1017 media makes all this clear.
And then there is Executive Order 511. Where the former President Joseph Estrada merely mustered the courage to nudge his friends and cronies to lean on specific media outfits, Arroyo corralled government advertisers—a move clearly aimed at making sure that precious ad revenues are parceled out to favored media organizations. A story in this issue on EO 511 says why journalists and media owners view this order with concern.
But perhaps the most cogent reason for why journalists must never go back to the days of Marcos, or Marcos-like, rule was given by Jose Pavia, former head of the Philippine News Agency and now executive director of the Philippine Press Institute. Pavia writes how it was like back then—and how it can be like for journalists who work for the government today.
As creatures of our time, journalists need to do more than inhabit our country as we find it; sometimes, we need to change it.