Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2014 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
The Philippines, having the most transparent and dynamic press freedom in Asia, is oftentimes tagged as a cradle of crimes committed against journalists. Given the country’s democratic values and traditions, how come some disciples of the right to communicate are unjustly maltreated?
Press freedom is anchored on democratic ideals and civil liberties, primarily upholding international human rights such as freedom of expression. It recognizes the need for checks-and-balances in the government to avoid abuse by those in power (Mehra, 1981:1).
The watchdog power of the press, a concept that has been in existence for more than two centuries exist in most democratic societies because of the institutional structures that is alien to countries under authoritarian rule. Schulte (1982) cited how the press, as an institution, has been regarded as the “Fourth Estate” in Britain and France, “the fourth power” in Spain, and “the fourth branch of government” in the United States. Thus, it is in that power in which the press has the ability to give or withhold publicity and from its informative capacity (McQuail, 2009: 168).
According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), under President Benigno S Aquino Jr, the Philippines has scored steadily dipping ratings in recent years from international groups monitoring the state of human rights, media freedom, and freedom of expression such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Asia, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
One of the most pressing issues in media-killing cases is linked to the country’s weak criminal justice system. The horrendous bureaucratic system between the judiciary and law enforcers is also not strong causing a turtle pacing in the investigation phase alone.
In the study done by PCIJ, they identified impediments that would lead to faster litigation process of media-killing cases. It suggested the following mechanisms: (1) the dire need to upgrade the training and capability of police investigators assigned to gather evidence, process witnesses, and build cases against both gunmen and masterminds; (2) the need to ease the case load of public prosecutors assigned to prosecute media murder cases in court; (3) the need to strengthen the Witness Protection Program (WPP) to encourage more witnesses to come forward and testify against perpetrators; and, (4) the need for the President himself to demonstrate political will and declare a clear and unequivocal policy to promote and protect press freedom, and to abate cases of harassment and murder of media workers.
The rules of court should be ironed conscientiously that must be in favor to the aggravated media people; especially when those implicated in high profile murder cases of journalists are officials and law enforcers. There should be a hotline or independent government agency that must look for the security of good media people, or a multi-sectoral quick response team that would safeguard the interests of truthfulness.
In the profession of media, there are good and bad media practitioners. However, if journalists practice their profession in good faith and in proper way, they will be protected by the people. In case journalists will be killed while doing their job in the right way, people will uphold truth and safeguard the rights of these good media people.
In other words, media ethics should be included in the curriculum of mass media colleges. It should be properly taught among students and practice them by heart in the field. This is very important because it will reflect the kind of media culture that we want to empower in our society. Although media ethics could be complex; it should still be inculcated among media practitioners. Truthfulness, conflicts of interest, sensationalism, authenticity and appropriateness of photographs, and media control should be upheld.
In the profession of media, there are good and bad media practitioners. However, if journalists practice their profession in good faith and in proper way, they will be protected by the people. In case journalists will be killed while doing their job in the right way, people will uphold truth and safeguard the rights of these good media people. Human rights are innate to all of us. It should be protected with utmost respect.
In the Philippines, media people are robed with such human rights and often robed of these rights. They seek assistance from the police and demand that the police take the murderers to court; however, they can be even stripped of their rights to report such crimes because oftentimes the perpetrators are the leaders of the police themselves.
The killings of journalists and media people can be qualified as a national security issue especially that the media is touted to be the ‘fourth estate’. The absence of safety and security to credible group of people who uphold truth and clothed with various human rights, should be protected by the state in sustain check-and-balance in various branches of the government and systems in our society.
Media people working in regional or provincial fields are more prone to attacks of media killings, thus, the local government and local law enforcers need to ensure their safety and security for the sake of upholding truth and freedom.
More frustrations are felt because this kind of security, be it in local or national environments, that are not addressed adequately. Laws should be properly implemented to prosecute the perpetrators and adherence to strict policies on the security of media people should be secured.
To sum it all, extrajudicial killings of media men and women should be addressed well based from various flaws that are seen as social ills in our society. The flaws on weak criminal justice system, not so strong media ethics, non-observance of human rights, and security threat among journalists are signs of lapses from our government and other sectors.
There is a need to protect people who uphold the truth and fairness which is one of the roles of the media. They should be granted with certain rights to defeat the culture of impunity and media killings in the country.
 The news article can be downloaded from http://pcij.org/stories/23-journalists-killed-in-40-months-of-pnoy-worst-case-load-since-86/, accessed last September 18, 2014.