Thursday, November 29, 2007

Special Privilege

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility issued a statement on the detention of the media people who covered Trillanes' fiasco.
"Never in the turbulent recent history of the Philippines has any government, including that of Ferdinand Marcos, ever taken into custody members of the media who were on the scene to do their jobs.

But the arrest of the media people who were covering the take-over of the Peninsula Hotel by Senator Antonio Trillanes’ Magdalo group is not only unprecedented. It is also an outrage, and a telling indication of the authoritarian depths into which the Arroyo regime has fallen in its obsession with political dominance. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility condemns this latest attack on the Philippine press as an assault not only on its Constitutionally-protected freedom, but also on democracy itself.

The arrests took place when the crisis was over, and Trillanes and company were already in police custody. The arrests can only be interpreted as one more attempt, together with libel suits and other harassments, to intimidate the Philippine press into either minimal or less aggressive reporting of political events. Media practitioners will remember this incident well, and some are likely to be affected enough to soften future coverage.

The Defense Secretary’s excuse that the police had to verify the identities of the media people covering the Peninsula Hotel crisis because there could be Magdalo members and sympathizers among them is totally unacceptable. Their identities were verifiable on-site, with some them being TV anchors well-known to millions of television viewers.

That members of the media, among them technical personnel and camerapersons as well as radio broadcasters and TV anchors, were being arrested at the very moment that Mrs. Arroyo was on the air describing her commitment to democracy was especially ironic. But it was also typical of the Arroyo regime’s rhetorical and contrived adherence to democracy and the rule of law.

The regime’s continuing assault on press freedom, free expression and freedom of assembly, of which this incident is only the latest, deserves condemnation. CMFR calls on all media, free expression and journalists’ groups in this country as well as abroad to denounce this atrocity as a willful act to inflict collateral damage on the Philippine press for doing its mandated responsibility of providing the sovereign public the information it needs."
The first paragraph is the "it was not done before so it must be wrong defense". Much like Sen. Saguisag's defense of President Estrada, no Philippine President was charged with corruption before so charging President Estrada must be wrong. Just because it was not done before does not mean it is not a good idea, and if you think about it for a minute, it is a good idea to get the statements of all people involved in a crime scene whether they are guilty or not. In fact, this should be the standard operating procedure of the police.

Then they go to the "it is an attack on media freedom" argument. How can getting statements from reporters who witnessed a crime be an attack on media freedom? And even as the reporters were being herded into the buses, ABS-CBN and GMA 7 were televising the whole event. All of their guests were unanimous in saying that they will only be detained until their identity is established. Where is the attack in that? Are reporters so privileged that they cannot now be questioned by the police regarding a crime they witnessed?

In fact this is argument the CMFR makes when it argues that the reporters should not have been brought to Camp Crame Bagong Diwa because "Their identities were verifiable on-site, with some them being TV anchors well-known to millions of television viewers." So because they are reporters and they are known by millions of people, they should be exempted? Will they argue the same for rich famous guys found in other crime scenes?

The life of a journalist in the Philippines is hard and dangerous enough, and they will encounter a lot of problems. But this is not one of them.

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