Magna Carta for Journalists is All About Merger of State and Journalism

The Senate– at least one of its members– seeks to put journalism under State control by requiring journalists to take mandatory

examination for accreditation.

The proposal– otherwise known as Senate Bill 380 or the  “Magna Carta for Journalists— filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada will make it compulsory for editors, reporters and photographers of mainstream media to undergo state-mandated examination in exchange for license to practice.

Th explanatory note of the bill states that the purpose is to enhance the basic civil and political rights of individuals “by promoting the welfare and protection of journalism in the country.”

Basically, what the bill or its proponent is trying to say is– you need state intervention and help to practice your right to free speech. This kind of thinking suggests the State must also provide us our daily food to promote our right to life. This is actually the same distorted mentality behind the Right to Reply bill proposed a few years ago.

But Estrada’s proposal is like a magic box containing lots of consumable goods and, of course, surprises to perhaps lure its intended ‘target’ or ‘beneficiaries’.

“It is necessary for the enactment of a law that will ensure a living wage, an atmosphere conducive to productive journalism work, reiterate value of ethics, provide for development programs that will deepen the practice of their profession, and promote the defense and protection of freedom and human rights of journalists and their organizations,” Estrada said in his bill.

How did media groups respond to this proposal? Well, at least one media group described it as “unnecessary”.

Rowena Paraan, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chairperson, said Estrada’s bill will create a “window for discrimination” among journalists.

She’s partly right! But the main target of the bill is not just professional journalists, but mainly the entire journalism profession as a whole.

The NUJP also slams the bill for being discriminatory and would “give employers even more leeway to reduce or even deptrive their media staff of the wages, benefits due them and the right to collectively bargain through a union.” It is at best stupid!

The media group states:

“Journalism—as a profession—should be as independent as possible because of journalists’ role as watchdogs in the service of the people’s right to know and to free expression. The same goes for media as an institution of a democratic society.

“Thus, the only qualifications journalists should be subject to are those imposed by the outfits that hire them and, for others who work independent of regular employers, the code of ethics that the profession has adopted.”

The bill defines journalism as “the gathering, writing, editing, processing and dissemination of news and production or publishing of newspapers and other such publications such as magazines, and pamphlets and other processes through wire, wireless, broadcasting, and online services. It means the gathering of news, features by means of camera for airing on television or for broadcasting on radio and wire, wireless broadcasting and online services.”

Such a definition suggests that journalism is not an activity, but a corporate profession. jack8

It defines “journalist” or “wire Service Reporter” as one who manages, edits, gathers and writes news stories or articles for newspapers, magazines or journals, or for airing in television or on radio, and for wire wireless broadcasting and online services.”

Other terms defined are as follows:

  • Publisher – One who manages the production, advertising, circulation of newspapers or magazines or online publications.
  • Editor – One who goes over manuscripts, news stories, edits these for publication in newspaper or magazines, or for airing in television or on radio or for wire, wireless broadcasting and online services also and who manages the editorial staff and news coverage.
  • Reporter – A journalist employed by a newspaper, television or radio station, wire or wireless broadcasting and online services to gather and produce news for publication and broadcasting and paid as a regular employee or under contract;

Basically the bill seeks to cover professional journalists, reporters, cameramen, etc. working for mainstream or corporate media.

The goal of the proposal is to bureaucratize and politicize the entire journalism profession by putting it under state control and supervision. The current practice is that all media outlets enjoy corporate sovereignty or independence from the government. This is, in fact, the real essence of free speech and freedom of the press. Journalists must be free to practice without government intervention, regulation or influence.

The press doesn’t need state intervention or even help. It doesn’t need to past laws to guarantee people’s freedom of expression and freedom of the press. These basic rights do not require government’s active interference, budget and even political support. It simply demands the State to back off and respect the constitutional rights of the people.

The truth is, the bill of rights in our Constitution merely guarantees and respect our inalienable rights. It neither grants nor creates those rights, and this is what Sen.Estrada fails to understand.

How does the bill seek to bureaucratize or to annex the journalism profession to the State?

The answer is, by creating what Section 5 calls “Philippine Council for Journalists”, which “will serve as the development center for journalism and at the same time act as a self-regulatory body for journalists and the journalism profession.” Members of this council shall be composed by either presidents or representatives of journalism organizations duly recognized by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

This powerful journalism council will have the following responsibilities:
  1. to produce database or directory of accredited journalists from both print and broadcast media to be updated regularly;
  2. to accredit journalist as defined herein;
  3. to conduct seminars, trainings and other related activities;

If enacted, this legislation will divide the journalism profession into two main groups: a) the accredited journalists, and 2) unaccredited journalists “those who have or taken or failed to pass the Professional Journalist Examination by the PCJ.”

But the proposal provides an exemption. The bill states that veteran journalists who have been “in the practice for at least ten (10) years shall be exempt from the PCJ examination but shall be subject to interview by the PCJ prior to the issuance of his accreditation.”

The bill also talks about code of ethics that will govern the profession, including security and protection, training programs and development, and incentives.

Now there are a lot of reasons journalists must strongly, vehemently oppose this proposed measure, and they are as follows:

  • It will empower the State to control and govern the profession, thus putting journalists under the authority or even mercy of politicians. There should be sustained separation of State and journalism profession.
  • It will not just discriminate against non-accredited journalists, but also against bloggers and citizen journalists.
  • Possible politicization of the journalism council.
  • The possibility of the government or powerful political parties or even politicians to infiltrate the council with the intent of controlling the entire organization.
  • Politicization of the council may lead to the destruction of open and healthy competition among media organizations.
  • The very high possibility of the council to outlaw or regulate “citizen journalism” or “blogging”.
  • The system is prone to political abuse by people in authority.
  • Journalism is not an ‘academic exercise’ or endeavor but a profession. Good and responsible reporting is not a product of stock knowledge or memorized lessons, but the ultimate result of a person’s combined efforts, professionalism, skills and work ethics. This is to say that journalists are self-made.
  • Very possibly, it will put some rogue journalists, or even organizations, under direct or indirect government payroll.
  • It could lead to censorship.
  • It is totally unnecessary because media groups are capable of self-regulating and monitoring themselves.
  • It will be prone to corruption, bribery and other irregular practices.

The current practice is, applicants willing to work for media organizations undergo rigorous examinations, interviews and even background checks. Based on my experience, only a very deserving few get the job.

The bill talks about ensuring journalists’ living wage, benefits and other incentives. This is basically a “candy” provision in the bill.

The question is: Are they stupid enough to take it?

That’s exactly how the lawmakers put the medical sector under State control– by simply luring people into biting “candy” provisions in the RH law.

As stated, Estrada’s bill seeks to put the entire journalism profession as we know it under political control and influence. Once the bill is enacted, the State through the lawmakers can then redefine and readjust the definition of journalism and who may practice it according to their political agenda. What a very bright idea!

In my own opinion, journalism is primarily an activity; it’s not just a profession, for anybody can become a journalist. My definition of a “journalist” is simple. He is someone who’s engaged in journalism, whether he gets paid for what he does or not. A seasoned blogger can be as competent and capable as any corporate journalist working in the mainstream media. In fact, there are bloggers and citizen journalists today who prefer what they do than work as full-time, corporate journalists.

To express my mind and to practice my freedom of expression, I don’t think I need government help and intervention. This first principle applies to corporate journalism as well. It simply needs the government to back off!

Corporate journalists in this country must campaign and support the separation of State and journalism.


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