Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s proposed Senate Bill 380 amounts to a statist, authoritarian attack on the basic human right of the freedom of speech.
He refilled last month the bill he had filed in the 14th Congress, which he called the “Magna Carta for Journalists.”
The “Magna Carta Libertatum” or “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England” from which the good senator took the title for his bill was a milestone in the history of Anglo-Saxon peoples. The 1215 document further reduced the power of the English monarch over the feudal barons, a reduction that was begun a century and 15 years earlier by the Charter of Liberties.
Mr. Jinggoy Estrada’s “Magna Carta for Journalists” rather than limit the powers of the Philippine state over Filipino journalists and the journalism profession would instead expand these governmental powers.
The good senator’s explanatory essay says the law seeks to promote “the welfare and protection of journalists.” He tells us that the proposed law aims to “ensure a living wage” for journalists, to make their work places more pleasant and “conducive to productive journalism work,” to uphold ethical values among them, to provide them with development programs that will turn them into better professionals, and to defend their freedom to practice journalism and protect them from human rights abuse.
For all the motherhood statements the bill contains, SB 380 if it becomes law would make journalism a state-controlled profession and will not give journalists “security of tenure” and the many other blessings it promises.
The essential defect of this bill is its ignorance of the fact, seen in the history and the development of the freedom of the press as an institution, that the freedom of journalists to exercise their profession is nothing more than a logical extension of every human being’s freedom of speech.
A second essential defect is the bill’s being founded on the wrong premise that journalism as a profession and the growth in virtue and skills of journalists as professionals depend on the intervention of government or quasi-government bodies.
One of the most dangerous provisions of Mr. Estrada’s bill is the creation of a body to be called the Philippine Council of Journalists (PCJ) that would accredit journalists who pass an examination, attend its seminars and training courses.
Only those who pass the PCJ’s Professional Journalist Examination would be given the Journalist Accreditation ID Card. They must then wear their ID when they cover their beats or in other ways do their job as reporters, photographers and writers. A PCJ Code of Ethics will be rigorously applied and Accredited Journalists will suffer punishments for violating the code.
By this law, the government—though the bill does not say where the money is to come from—will fund benefits to be enjoyed by PCJ accredited journalists. These benefits will be beyond those that their employers already give them.
Two classes of journalists
To those who would oppose this bill because it would curtail the freedom of expression of those who would still want to observe, interview, write and report in media without passing the PCJ Accreditation Exam and earning the privilege of wearing the Journalist Accreditation ID, there is an answer. This proposed law would still allow non-PCJ accredited journalists to continue working as reporters, photographers, writers and editors, etc.
The distinction would be that the non-accredited journalists would not be entitled to government-funded benefits.
We commend the National Union of Journalists for having rejected this bill when it was first proposed by Mr. Estrada in the 14th Congress and for reiterating its objections the other day. One of the NUJP’s main points is that the so-called Magna Carta for Journalists would create two tiers of Filipino journalists—the accredited ones receiving government largesse and the non-accredited ones who would not be government-blessed.
NUJP warned against the discrimination that would arise between the two kinds of journalists.
Worse, we see that creating a class of accredited and government-blessed journalists against a class of non-accredited ones is a corrupt act.
We also commend the NUJP for declaring that it “cannot subscribe to the notion of subjecting journalists to accreditation for purposes of regulating the profession.” NUJP rejects accreditation by “any state agency” and not “peer accreditation.”
Many more practical and philosophical arguments can be raised against Senator Estrada’s “Magna Carta for Journalist” bill.
Suffice it to reiterate that it endangers not just the free exercise by Filipinos of the freedom of the press, which is just an extension of the basic human right to free speech.
It also portends the possibility that laws could be passed to require citizens to pass examinations before they can talk about any subject.