Media still at a loss

JUSTICE  Secretary Leila M. De Lima has one sweet message to newsmen. “Rest assured,” she said, “you will never find greater respect and recognition for the power that media wields than under this administration.”

Wow, and she even talked about empowering the media. That would mean “empowering the majority, those who tend to be lost and neglected by the system,” the justice secretary said.

For that, she told the 7th Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines that “utter respect for the freedom of the press is truly not under debate at this point.”

She can only blame the past when “events escalated until a ‘culture of impunity’ emerged from a
systematic abuse of authority.”

And she was right. From 1996 to 2009, the Philippines already ranked 4th worst in the world after Iraq, Russia and Columbia, in media violence. The International News Safety Institute reported 76 journalists were killed during that period, and another four in 2009.

Finally 58 people, 32 of them newsmen, were massacred a year ago in Maguindanao by forces identified with the powerful Ampatuan warlord clan. It was the “darkest day of Philippine journalism.” De Lima said that it should never have gotten to that point.

But that was the past, ”though we cannot change the past or restore the lives lost, you have our commitment to do all that is within our power to deliver true and complete justice to all,” she pointed out.

I would have believed everything the justice secretary said until she admitted that “bringing the perpetrators to justice (in the Maguindanao massacre) will not be an easy battle to win.”

She conceded that the Maguindanao massacre trial was a very complicated case because “a number of whom remain influential and powerful even while they remain under custody.”

Solving the case was not merely legal, but requires the neutralization of a whole machinery of violence and brutality that is fueled by power, political influence and wealth.

Maguindanao is just one province, but the influential and powerful people who have lost regard for journalists continue to lurk in their own political turfs.

This is the reason why until now journalists remain restive. They can’t just do their work without facing the risk. Sad to say, we disagree with De Lima that the media wield great power in this country.

Right in that hall where she talked, several colleagues were complaining that they were being harassed and some of them were even forced to leave their provinces because their lives have been threatened by influential people who are identified with the administration.

If they are not being threatened by force, they remain victims of unfair labor practices by their employers, many of whom have become the oligarchs of this regime. Journalists remain underpaid and overworked, yet they continue to choose to become slaves of the powers-that-be because the system tolerates this kind of system.

De Lima couldn’t even assure the media that the freedom of information bill would be passed under the PNoy administration, when it was supposed to be one of the primary legacies of the late President Corazon Aquino.

So we just have to wait and see if we can expect the media and government to have a “healthy working relationship” under the Aquino administration.

Right now, all that government can really offer is the “Handbook on Personal Security Measures for Media Practitioners” which was issued by the Philippine National Police. It contains security tips for media practitioners to effectively protect themselves and their families against criminality and other forms of threats and danger. Joel Paredes

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