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Don't charge the messengers

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The Center for International Law (CENTERLAW), a civil society organization that advocates, among others, freedom of expression and a free press, express its disappointment at the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) recommendation to charge the media for the August 23 debacle.
While we acknowledge that media may have failed to observe the highest degree of professionalism and self-restraint in their coverage of the unfortunate incident, still this is not a basis for holding them liable for breach of the country's criminal laws. Bad journalism is not and should never be criminal in a democracy.

The reality is that the August 23 incident was truly a news worthy event. Media hence had a duty to cover the incident. While the Philippine media has acknowledged that its coverage may have affected the outcome of the incident; this however, is but a natural consequence of the right of the public to information on matters involving public concerns.

Indeed, the whole incident is reflective why there is a culture of impunity in this country: a failure of the legal system to work provide adequate remedies to individuals under domestic law and security forces that are both inept and abusive in the discharge of their functions.

CENTERLAW thus calls on the reformist P-Noy not to adopt the IIRC's recommendations. Coming on the eve of the anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the despot Ferdinand Marcos, P-Noy must be reminded that without a free press, there would not be a public debate on public issues crucial to the functioning of a representative democracy.

This was why as a precondition for the establishment of an authoritarian regime, then despot Marcos had to muzzle a free press.

CENTERLAW also express alarm that the recommendation is no different from the manner by which the Arroyo administration sought to silence the public debate on issues relevant to the nation. Like Arroyo, the IIRC recommends the use of penal laws to repress press freedom. The difference is in the crime sought to be charged: under Arroyo it was libel or disobedience to authorities; under the IIRC recommendation, it is obstruction of justice.

Unlike Marcos or Arroyo, P-Noy has no reason to repress press freedom. This is because unlike both Marcos and Arroyo, P-Noy without a doubt was vested with an overwhelming mandate from the people. With no skeleton in his closet, P-Noy should allow the media to thrive and mature in an adolescent democracy.

By Harry Roque, CENTERLAW




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