Limits of Press Freedom
Unlike other many countries, the media in the Philippines are not governed by a separate body of media laws; the legislative regulations that affect the media also extend to other institutions and people. The print media are required to register as business enterprises for starting operation, while the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), a regulatory agency, is entrusted with the responsibility of allocating frequencies to television and radio stations. According to the NTC website, the licenses are required to be renewed every three years.
Right of Press Freedom
Freedom of the press is protected under Article III, Section 4 of the revised Constitution of 1984, which states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” The Philippines is also a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ICCPR recognise the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to hold opinions and to seek, receive and impart information.
The Shield Law, under Republic Act (RA) 1477, recognises journalists’ right to protect their sources. By means of this law, an editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of a newspaper cannot be forced to reveal the source of any information or news report.
Access to Information
Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution acknowledges the “right of the people to information on matters of public concern.” This includes official records, documents and papers of official acts and government research data. This Constitutional provision, however, is conditional and limited to only matters of public concern and official (but not unofficial) records, documents and papers among other restrictions. The condition of “public concern” can be misleading and be misinterpreted leading to violation of the press’ right of information. The right to access of information also does not extend to trade secrets, confidential commercial and financial matters and confidential records of different branches of the government. This right may also be breached in matters related to national security and national interest. The clauses of statutory limits need clarification since some of the provisions are open to interpretation and can be exploited against the rights of the media. There is yet to be an enabling law to strengthen the Constitutional right of access to information. A proposed Freedom Of Information Bill, being considered by the Congress for quite some time, is yet to be passed. (http://www.ifex.org/philippines/2010/02/04/no_foi_bill/) There has been continuous campaigning by journalists and media advocacy groups for a Freedom of Information Bill to reinforce the right of access to information.
Apart from the Freedom of Information Bill, other regulations too have been proposed. A bill seeking welfare and protection of journalists, known as Magna Carta for Journalists, is currently pending at the House of Representatives.
(http://pressinstitute.ph/). This bill seeks to provide mandatory life, health and accidental protection of journalists. It also proposes the formation of a self-regulatory council constituting various journalist associations – Philippine Council for Journalists. However, the bill also makes it mandatory for the council to be recognized by a Securities and Exchange Commission, which should be represented by the President or her representative. Red Batario, executive director of the non-profit media activism group, Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), said that while Magna Carta will otherwise be a positive step in the protection of journalists, one still has to be careful about certain provisions that might have the potential to curtail press freedom. The provision of recognition of a journalist council by a commission represented by the President can lead to the possibility of interference and regulation by the government.
Right of Reply Bill
This proposed Right of Reply Bill too has been a subject of intense debate and discussion. This bill (Senate Bill 2150 and House Bill 3306) recognises the right of a person (accused of a certain offensive act as per a reports on print, broadcast and online media) to reply free of charge on the same media. This bill also makes it mandatory for the media to dedicate the same amount of (not longer than) space or air time to the reply of the accused person within three days of the original report, failing which the editor, publisher, station manager or broadcast medium owner can be fined. This proposed law has been strongly criticised by journalists who perceive it as a mechanism to encourage prior restraint of the media. John Nerry, senior editor of the Philippines Daily Enquirer, said in an interview that this bill seeks a simple arithmetical approach to the question of fairness and can be exploited by politicians to further their self-interest. This bill has also been described by media advocacy groups as an attempt by the government to regulate the press. Self-regulatory bodies like the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and journalist organisations like National Union of Journalist of Philippines (NUJP) have opposed this proposed legislation.
Philippine Press Freedom Report 2008, published by Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), however, reported that the print medium’s reluctance to comply to the right of reply was a major complaint against the print medium. In certain cases newspapers have even refused to offer paid space to the accused to channelise his or her views. While prior restraint of the press is unacceptable, the media too have to be careful about fairness. The CMFR report observed that the failure of the press to provide the right of reply to the accused may justify suggestions of external regulation. (http://jlp-law.com/blog/right-of-reply-senate-bill-2150-and-house-bill-3306/)
While most of the laws affecting the Philippine media are fairly liberal, at the same time there are certain regulatory restrictions that limit the freedom of the press. Libel, a form of defamation, is criminalised in the Philippines under Articles 353 to 362 of the revised Penal Code. It can be punished by fine, imprisonment or both. A libel is defined as “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead” (Article 353). Article 355 states that a libel can be committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition. The penalties for various degrees of libel are listed under Articles 355 to 359, which can range from imprisonment, a fine of 200 to 2000 pesos (USD 4 to 40), or both. In case of acts not covered by the articles that still dishonour, discredit or bring contempt on another person, the penalty may extend to imprisonment or fine ranging from 200 to 1000 (USD 4 to 20) pesos. The imprisonment on libel charges can extend upto six months’ imprisonment. However, libel can be a civil case if the plaintiff files for damages; in that case the offender will be subjected only to fine, but not imprisonment.
In practice though the judiciary has favoured journalists in most of the libel charges, this legal provision still has the potential to intimidate journalists. Significantly, the husband of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo filed 11 suits against 46 journalists in recent past, which, however, were dropped by him later on. However, the counter suits against him are still pursued by media advocacy groups who have demanded a clear judgement on the abuse of the right to sue the media. Journalist John Nerry said that his employer the Philippines Daily Enquirer newspaper has registered as many as 200 libel suits, most of which were dismissed, with the exception of only one case that reached the second level of the judiciary. Nerry added that while the big media in Manila can afford legal support to evade these libel suits, the smaller publications in the provinces and their journalists remain particularly vulnerable to a criminalised defamation. Journalists, media organisations and advocacy groups have long campaigned for the decriminalisation of libel. Professor Luis Teodoro of Center, deputy director of Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), mentioned that while in the past the judiciary has been supportive of the rights of the journalists, this is changing. There has been an increase in instances where politicians have taken recourse to existing libel laws against journalists to silence their criticism by the media.
Among other laws that might affect the freedom of expression of the media are offences related to national security, which includes inciting a rebellion or resurrection. This provision, covered under Article 138 of the Revised Penal Code, covers incitement of rebellion or resurrection through “speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations”. Thus this provision can be exploited by authorities against the media. According to a report by the media advocacy group Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the government of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo used this Article against printing presses in February 2006.
Though the power of the NTC does not extend to supervision of content of the broadcast media, in case of a national emergency the state-controlled regulatory body can revoke the licenses of the latter. Article XII, Section 17 of the Constitution states: “In times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.” The KBP, the self-regulatory board for the broadcast media, has continued to protest against this provision of the Constitution. Rupert Nicdao, chairman of the KBP, said in an interview that the usage of “emergency” in the provision has not been defined adequately and therefore, any situation can be interpreted as emergency by the authorities to curb the freedom of the media. The NTC reportedly threatened to revoke the licenses of some of the broadcast media that covered the stand-off between the supporters of then-marine commander Major General Renato Miranda and those of President Arroyo in 2006 after the former was discharged over allegations of a military coup. Nicdao said that the media that covered the stand-off at the army camp were accused by the authorities of offering false information.
According to the Revised Constitution of 1987, ownership of media is restricted only to Filipinos or corporations, cooperatives or associations managed by them. The constitution extends restrictions on foreign investment in media and also bestows the Congress to regulate or prohibit monopolies in commercial mass media for public interest. Since the 1930s, economic and political interests have guided the media. The mainstream media in the Philippines are currently controlled mostly by rich families. Cross ownership of media also exists: Benpres Holdings Corporation, owned by the Lopez family, have stakes in multiple media – print, radio and television broadcasting. The reports of self-censorship among journalists to protect owners’ interest are common. Regulation limiting the concentration of ownership in one media and across media is required for diversity of viewpoints and content. The current provision limiting concentration does not adequately address this issue. Luis V. Teodoro of the CMFR, said that along with the present patterns of ownership of the mainstream media, there should be other forms of ownership like media owned by union of journalists. Industry-wide union of journalists and media workers can be hailed as response to the pressure of the owners on journalists. Regulation of media ownership should include the requirement for owners to be transparent about their assets. There is no legal provision for public service broadcasting in the country, which should be considered.Back to top