Freedom of Speech is truly the governing principle of the Free Market of Ideas and the entire subjective experience of the citizenry in a pluralistic and open democratic society. The right to speak necessarily implies the right to be heard, as well as the right to hear what others are saying. Thus the Public's Right to Know is the Public's right to get news, views and entertainment, as well as education, the arts, history and knowledge of every sort, that would be frustrated without the ability of some to provide information to others, oftentimes for a fee disguised in the beguilements of advertising or the price of tuition.
Information is a prime commodity in a world where most forms of wealth including the business infrastructure itself are a form of intellectual property. Thus the buying, selling, trading and commercialization of news, views, entertainment, education, and all other forms of information is an integral part of our civilization.
A newspaper, radio, television station is a commercial enterprise which manufactures and packages news, views and entertainment, or some other form of information desired by the Public. Free enterprise includes the concept of a Free Press. The Public's Right to Know is really the Public's right to maintain a free marketplace for those Ideas called news, views and entertainment, and the rights to buy, sell, trade, make and disseminate them.
Professional journalism, at least on the news gathering side, can be seen as an organized form of data acquisition and dissemination in which the News Reporter is duty-bound to accurately record and report the facts of a story (who, what, when, where, why, how) and in controversial issues to get all sides.
In order to accomplish this feat of getting accurate information from sometimes tightlipped, busy or hostile sources, it has been traditional for news reporters, as such, to be objective, neutral, or at least accessible to all in order to gain access and not be seen as biased or unreliable. In this way, the newspaper, tv or radio station that becomes the outlet for such information gathered by reporters can build up a good reputation and become "credible" to the Public. Product loyalty is built up by the Mass Media at least partially on the credibility of its news even though no one has ever lost money underestimating the Buying Public's intelligence or overestimating its undying preference for the entertaining.
Yesterday, what we witnessed in the Philippine Senate was a remarkable event in which the Mass Media have become a big part of the Message...
The Senate hearing on the Nov. 29 Manila Peninsula incident chaired by Senators Chiz Escudero and Gringo Honasan was attended by well known Media Personalities who have definitely become a part of the National News. Malaya's Ellen Tordesillas and Jake Macasaet; NHK's Manila correspondent Charlene Deogracias; Ms. dela Pena Reyes of GMA-7; PDI's Gil Cabacungan; ABSCBN's Maria Ressa; National Press Club's Roy Mabasa; Ruben Canoy of Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas; Mr. Tony Lopez of the Manila Overseas Press Club. They are as much Public Personalities as the First Gentleman, or any Senator.
As usual invited Executive Dept. officials, police and military officials were no-shows at the hearing but the pusillanimous Senate has done nothing to compel their attendance to cooperate with the Congress in aid of legislation.
The hearing gave mass media personalities a nationally televised soapbox to air their grievances about the incident. There seems to be especial umbrage taken by some of the Journalists upon being arrested by lowly SPO1s instead of Metrocom Colonels and above, as in the time of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That was before they even invented plastic tie locs, but the MOPC's Tony Lopez was wrong to claim that more journalists were arrested at the Manila Pen than during Marcos' martial law. There is simply no comparison, susmaryosep!
Even before the hearing itself started, Vergel O. Santos of Business World and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said on ANC that Press Freedom of Speech and the right of the public to know should have the highest priority in the hierarchy of our democratic rights and freedoms. Compared to what I wonder?
Isn't the true priority self-evident in the traditional formula naming the triumvirate of our most essential Rights as those to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Surely there is no Liberty or Freedom to be exercised, even by a Journalist, if he or she should happen to lose their life for refusing to heed reasonable orders by lawful authority to clear a crime scene or potential battle ground.
Asked by Sen. Dick Gordon whether she she was maybe getting in the way of police at the Manila Pen and endangering not only her life but that of others, Malaya's Ellen Tordesillas did her best Lil Bo Peep act claiming there was no way she could possibly be in the way of a tank and several APCs worth of SWAT Teams trying to arrest several armed Magdalo rebels with uncertain intentions or capabilities. Why did she have to respect the Police's yellow line when she was already inside the line before it was set up, she asked plaintively. If there was going to be any action, she claimed she would only be recording, not getting in the way of the massacre and bloodbath.
Meanwhile the MOPC's Tony Lopez intoned the argument that safety is the journalist's lookout, insisting to Senator Dick Gordon that even if a few reporters or camera men had been killed at the Manila Pen, that the Media would accept such losses as part of the profession or vocation they have chosen. But it is an argument that is disingenuous. It can only be made because no one was killed in this incident. But I bet he would have been singing an entirely new song if there were any fatalities on that day. It's a little self-serving to proclaim a willingness to die while covering the beat and Tony was clearly having fun with the whole thing, especially after Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan stroked his ego by opining how senatorial was his testimony.
What strikes me as paradoxical is how journalists can claim to be willing to accept getting killed in a crossfire, but will complain for being arrested and "processed" by the cops for a few hours. What did they expect, after they refused to clear out despite several ultimatums from the authorities. Rebellion charges are being brought against Trillanes, Lim and several others as a result of that incident. I think the journalists who refused to clear out, came dangerously close to obstruction of justice, or at aleast, interfering with the police.
I find it particularly charming for Tony Lopez to suggest that he wouldn't mind journalists getting killed, as long as it isn't intentional. As if it were only their lives that might be endangered by their presence. What about the law enforcers themselves who have to deal with a potentially deadly situation while having to deal with civilians who may have no idea what is going on and are in fact only trying to find out. Surely, between the work of the police and the work of the journalists both Democracy and Common Sense agree as to who ought to please just get out of the way until the smoke clears.
The Right to Know surely does not abrogate the Rule of Law because it simply does not trump the Right to Life.
Not all Mass Media agree with Ellen and Tony about this lexical priority of rights, as Maria Ressa of ABSCBN News at least has declared that "No news reporter would be willing to die for a story." But I think Maria Ressa wants to claim for broadcast television the same Press Freedom that print media journalists like Ellen and Tony are used to.
Are all Mass Media created equal? Apparently not. Today's Senate hearing delved in some detail into the very real distinction between Print Media (such as newspapers and magazines on the one hand), and broadcast media on the other (such as television and radio).
Because the airwaves used by both TV and Radio (actually the electromagnetic frequency spectrum) are considered to be part of the national patrimony, like its lands, seas and rivers, a Congressional Franchise is required to operate radio or tv stations. As found in a typical franchise of this kind the broadcasters are being granted a privilege "to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain for commercial purposes and in the public interest, radio and/or television broadcasting stations in the Philippines..."
SEC. 5. Right of Government. - A special right is hereby reserved to the President of the Philippines, in times of war, rebellion, public peril, calamity, emergency, disaster or disturbance of peace and order, to temporarily take over and operate the stations or facilities of the grantee, to temporarily suspend the operation of any station or facility in the interest of public safety, security and public welfare, or to authorize the temporary use and operation thereof by any agency of the government, upon due compensation to the grantee, for the use of said stations or facilities during the period when they shall be so operated.Now, I do agree with Tony Lopez that this is an anachronism that has been rendered obsolete by technology. There should be no distinction made in Law among the various forms of the Mass Media. Newspapers ought to be treated the same as broadcasters and subject to the same equal and equitable protections and restrictions.