On May 3 and on the run up to it, members of the news media are commemorating the World Press Freedom Day in Bukidnon.
This is probably the first time it will be held here in recent times with a concerted effort to spread understanding on the role of the news media in society and the citizens duties to its working press.
What are the Origins and the reasons behind an international commemoration of World Press Freedom Day?
The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.
UNESCO marks World Press Freedom Day by conferring the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on a deserving individual, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger. Created in 1997, the prize is awarded on the recommendation of an independent jury of 14 news professionals. Names are submitted by regional and international non-governmental organizations working for press freedom, and by UNESCO member states.
The Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, on 17 December 1986. Cano’s writings had offended Colombia’s powerful drug barons. (Source: UNESCO website)
Is press freedom a human right?
Yes, and it is embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is included in the 1986 Philippine Constitution.
Why is there a need to mark World Press Freedom Day in the Philippines, particularly in our province?
As a human right, the freedom of the press is not only a declaration but a very practical freedom that must be lived even in the remotest of communities. If it works, it helps peoples exercise their other rights and freedoms. Without it, there can be no environment of free expression for people to manifest their freedom of speech, or expression, and the right to know, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, among others.
Is press freedom just a concern of journalists and media workers?
No, journalists and media workers are just the ones directly affected if the press freedom is trampled upon. But the effect will not end in restraints in their work. It will affect the public to whom the press community is bound to serve. Journalists are “eyes and ears” of the public. Attacks to freedom of the press are an attack to the people themselves and their other freedoms.
When journalists are harassed, attacked or even killed (just as the case in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province where 57 people, 32 of them journalists and media workers, were massacred) is that an attack to the people?
Yes. A muffled press leaves the public unable to see what those in power want to be hidden. Ideally journalists have to work as beacon on the hill or as light for the truth, as watchdogs, as fiscalizers, as voice of the voiceless, as communicator and partner in development. When they are not allowed to exercise this right and are not allowed to work to their fullest capacity, then the ideals and aspirations of democracy is also endangered.
What are some examples of these attacks?
Some examples include threatening a news person for reporting on a particular interest that affected some people, not giving due attention on the request of members of the working press access to information they need to report fairly and accurately on a story, filing harassment cases like libel to scare journalists from pursuing a story, physically harming the journalists who are just trying to do their jobs, among others.
How should we view ideals of press freedom in the light of the limitations of the press in general and the reputation of some members of the press in terms of questions of integrity, competence, and ethical problems?
The public must also not generalize and rush at a judgment. In Bukidnon, we recognize there are some members of the press who have gone out of the bounds of free and responsible journalism. But that does not merit a “class act”. Not all news people are irresponsible and incompetent. Most news media practitioners received training and have the competence to do their work. To the erring members of the press, the news media community, through the principle of self regulation, has the responsibility to police its ranks and to promote that the working press will do excellent work for a nurturing public. The public must be aware that attacking journalists should never be an option just because one feels that they erred or have been problematic in the lens of media freedom and responsibility.
How should the public in general and those subjects of erroneous and unfair reports in particular seek redress from the media?
Report or file complaints for their errors of omission and commission to their editors/publishers/ station managers or to self regulatory /media support organizations like the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the Philippine Press Institute, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, and Atong Press/Bukidnon Committee of the Press. Some of the subjects of public complaint have been suspended/ terminated or subjected to a specific disciplinary action. The important thing is they are reported, so that news community authorities can take proper action,
Journalists and news media organizations are obliged to correct erroneous reports.
Is truth searching and truth telling the sole responsibility of the press?
The citizens, too, have responsibilities and roles to play in the search for truth. One, they must promote the truth. Two, they must profess the truth. Three, they must help the press/news media in their search for the truth. The latter could be in the form of support, such as patronizing local media products and services. This support shall enable the news media to sustain its activities in truth telling. The citizens, too, can contribute to the work of the media by submitting Letters to the Editor, participating in on air discussions, or engage as a citizen journalist. The citizens cannot just carp at the problems and challenges faced by members of the working press, they must also take responsible actions to be a part of the solution.
What are on going efforts to arrive at a dialogue among journalists and between journalists and the citizens?
Journalist organizations are organizing initiatives that protect and promote press freedom and push for responsible journalism as well. The Bukidnon commemoration of World Press Freedom Day is just a reminder for both journalists and the public for the need to protect press freedom in the community. Starting this year, some journalists formed groups like Atong Press to initiate efforts at building up the Bukidnon news media community.
Atong Press has organized media activities that promote responsible journalism and vigilance on press freedom. For the WPFD commemoration, Atong Press is organizing a media forum on Media Law: The Press and the Judiciary. A parade and Holy mass is also being organized.
In the near future, Atong Press plans to initiate the formation of the Bukidnon Committee of the Press, a local version of a press council as a multi sector body to help draw out development for the Bukidnon working press.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, too, has revived its Bukidnon chapter this year and has lined up activities for World Press Freedom Day. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas Bukidnon chapter also has organized support activities and projects. There are also planned efforts to activate the Bukidnon Press Club.
We have rich dreams for the future of the Bukidnon news media. But to realize them, both the press and the public they ought to serve in general, have to work, and work real hard.[Source: http://www.atongpress.ning.com]