The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines – Reporting the truth was a dangerous act during the Martial Law era. It meant arrest and imprisonment in military prison camps of journalists who were suspected by the Marcos regime of conniving with leftist groups in overthrowing the government. Newspapers critical of the administration were shut down leaving the Filipinos clueless about the country’s real situation under the hands of a dictator and his cronies who plundered the nation’s wealth. At the time, only the Daily Express, Bulletin Today, and Times Journal or the so-called “establishment press” that supported the regime were allowed to operate.
But the alternative press, among them We Forum and Ang Pahayagang Malaya of Jose Burgos Jr., Mr. and Ms. Magazine edited by Eugenia Apostol and Leticia Jimenez-Magsanoc, and Business Day newspaper of spouses Raul and Leticia Locsin, refused to be silenced despite being constantly harassed and intimidated by the repressive regime.
In guiding the people toward the path of truth, the alternative press countered the pro-Marcos propaganda of the establishment press by exposing the horrors and harrows during the rule of the strongman.
In 1986, press freedom was restored after Ferdinand Marcos was toppled via the EDSA People Power uprising and his successor Corazon Aquino repealed all the laws on media censorship. But its restoration didn’t end the challenge of making press freedom work in behalf of the majority of powerless and voiceless Filipinos.
As Luis V. Teodoro, former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass communication and current deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsbility, sees it, today’s hard-won press freedom is unfortunately being abused not in behalf of the many who need to be empowered through information but primarily for the benefit of a powerful few who has control over the media industry.
For Ed Lingao, multimedia director of the Philippine Center for Journalism, while press freedom is being enjoyed today, there are still big stumbling blocks to its ideal practice due to rampant media killings, the dominance of commercial interest in the media industry, the infiltration of showbiz and entertainment values into news, and the challenge to responsible reporting, which is tied to the need of uplifting the media profession and promote the general welfare of journalists.
For dzMM radio’s Arnell Ozaeta, although journalists enjoy more freedom now than during the Marcos administration, there’s much to be had because media access to government information remains restricted.
Ramon “Ricky” Carandang, former news anchor of ABS-CBN and ANC correspondent, and now head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, has a more optimistic view. He said Filipino journalists should be proud of the continuously improving press freedom in the country.
Quoting a report from Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-government organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, Carandang said the Philippines’ press freedom ranking increased by four points because of the reduction of violence against journalists, the attempts of the government to address media killings, and the expanded diversity of media ownership.