By: Melinda Quintos De Jesus
I WOULD have preferred to leave the brawl in the baggage area of NAIA 3 (Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3) involving media and showbiz personalities without much more comment than Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility’s monitor which focused mainly on the treatment of the incident as front-page headline news by a leading newspaper.
Whatever other pertinent commentary could well come from other quarters who have yielded such quite abundantly.
Questions about appropriate conduct in a public place by all concerned have come from columns and feature pieces—and all these should hopefully make everyone more thoughtful about public expectation of celebrity conduct in public places which they have to share with other people.
But with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) decision to suspend the show “T3” and TV5’s quick counter to sue the MTRCB, the case has moved into the realm of policy and the governance of Philippine communications policy.
A blog discussion cannot sum up all that needs to be discussed involving this court case. It could start with much needed review and audit of laws and decrees reflecting Philippine communication policy. As Luis V. Teodoro points out in his blog, the censorious power of the MTRCB is a remnant of the control infrastructure instituted by Martial Law. If some presidential decree that sustains this power remains in the books, then MTRCB may have a legal leg to stand on. Channel 5 should probably raise this to the Supreme Court as a constitutional case. But the Supreme Court has more things to worry about these days. And really, as a press freedom advocate and a non-lawyer, I would prefer that if any case were elevated to the Supreme Court to challenge the
MTRCB’s authority to censor broadcast media, that it would involve protection of something more worthy.
I am well aware that the above statement places me on a precipice, so to speak, and may raise questions about my own staunch advocacy of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. But, this is consistent with the 20 years of work which includes programs to promote greater responsibility on the part of Philippine journalism, that will promote the kind of press and media needed in a democracy.
Perhaps, I am suffering from advocate fatigue. Advocate support has been called for libel cases (not all) that show defamatory coverage resulting from failed and flawed practice in news, public affairs and commentary, from the lack of basic journalistic skills, from the ethical vacuum in which values of fairness and balance languish.
Our media enterprises, including their news operations, have flourished as business companies, thriving in the corporate jungle where ratings and commercial gains rule. The record shows the absence of responsibility on the part of those who hire broadcasters, solely on the basis of their power to boost ratings; or in the experience of broadcast in the provinces, to yield their broadcast time for a fee, and the practice, unique in the Philippines, of blocktimers.
The Philippines is also quite unique in the world of developing democracies for having patterned its constitutional protection for freedom of expression and press freedom on the United States (US), echoing in our own the awesome libertarian breadth of the language of the American constitution. Most democratizing countries now prefer to protect as well as restrain their press with a Press Law.
I feel that if we are going to stick to this model, as hopefully we would, then let’s learn as much from the conceptual model as we can; although at this time, the practice of most media in the West hardly leads the way. There is little activity to show this compulsion, among lawyers or journalists.
This current case compelled another quick read of the pertinent theses of Lee Bollinger, now president of Columbia University and First Amendment expert in the US, propounded in his book “Images of a Free Press”.
Tracing the development of American jurisprudence on the issue, he discerns in the US High Court’s decisions to amplify and enlarge the autonomy of the press, the same High Court’s engagement in developing a hierarchy of speech…. “Some kinds of speech are going to be deemed more worthy of constitutional protection than others because the Constitution—as interpreted by the Court—itself places a value on that discussion.”
The Court decisions studied for this purpose, reflects the US Court’s efforts perhaps “to pressure the press to conform to certain norms of quality journalism.”
It is the value of discussion, the clash and test of ideas, about matters affecting governance and public life that is the prime point of the US First Amendment protection. It is that discussion that promotes democracy and strengthens and creates citizens. I am not sure that we have clarified that point enough in our discussions on press freedom protection.
It is presumed, of course, that the press is engaged in these valued discussions. So everything else that gets the protection enjoy the benefits as free-riders and free-loaders of the trade. (http://www.cmfr-phil.org/inmediasres/again-into-the-fray/)
Melinda Quintos de Jesus is the executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. She worked as a freelance journalist in the 1970s, starting out in the field of television documentary film. Her experience in journalism has since included print, radio, and television. She also wrote columns for leading newspapers in the Philippines such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and The Manila Times.