World Press Freedom Day

4 presidential bets stress press freedom, information as key aspects of democracy

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4 presidential bets stress press freedom, information as key aspects of democracy
Robredo cites need to widen spaces for dissent, Pacquiao doesn't want to decriminalize libel, De Guzman backs Right of Reply, and Gonzales proposes trust fund for media workers

MANILA, Philippines – Four presidential candidates tackled their policies on media freedom in a forum hosted by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) on Monday, May 2, stressing the right to information as a key aspect of functioning democracies.

Vice President Leni Robredo, former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales, labor leader Leody De Guzman, and Senator Manny Pacquiao attended the forum sponsored by the media organization and the Journalism Studies Association of the Philippines (JSAP).

Robredo, in a pre-recorded message, stressed the need for “Informed discourse,” adding that “government should be the foremost defender of public’s right to information”. 

“This means, among other things, ensuring an empowering environment for those who maintain the flow of information – those who seek the truth and those who keep our citizens engaged in nation-building through open debate,” she explained.

The vice president promised to protect media workers from harassment by widening the spaces for dissent and welcoming feedback and criticism to improve the workings of the government.

“We will enact and enforce policies that promote transparency. Those that have to do with the full disclosure of government contracts, for example. And those that uphold the freedom of information.” said Robredo.

Structural reforms

Labor Leody De Guzman said rules and regulations are not enough to uphold the rights of media workers and ordinary citizens. He said unjust social structures hamper genuine freedom of expression and access to information.

‘Mananatili ang mga kasinungalingan, ang mga panloloko, lalaganap ang fake news, ang paglapastangan sa kalayaan ng mga mamamayan.” said De Guzman. (The lies will continue, as well as deceptions, and fake news will spread as will violations of citizens’ freedom.)

De Guzman stressed that attacks on human rights are not exclusive to the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

During the time of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and even before him, until former presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos, there was repression of rights, De Guzman said in Filipino.

Financial assistance, media regulation

Former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales said citizens need information to  participate in nation building.

“I believe the source of this information would be the media that is free,” Gonzales said in a pre-recorded video.

He proposed the creation of a trust fund to provide financial assistance for media workers.

He also encouraged the media sector to form a regulatory body “that is mostly participated and led by them [media workers].”

Pacquiao sent his spokesperson Gil Bugaoisan to express his support for press freedom by describing it as a symbol of democracy.

“Ako ay naniniwala na ang kalayaan sa pamamahayag ay ang mukha ng demokrasya sa ating bansa.” said Pacquiao. (I believe that press freedom is the face of democracy for our country.)

Bugaoisan expounded on the senator’s 2018 proposal to license bloggers as his way of upholding the right to information.

“Naniniwala kasi siya [Pacquiao] na dapat talaga na ‘yung mga vloggers [at] ‘yung mga bloggers ay dapat kilala natin kung sino talaga sila. Hindi naman pwedeng hindi natin alam kung sino ‘yung mga taong ‘yan [dahil] naglalabas sila ng mga information, diba?” said Bugaoisan. (Pacquiao really believes that we should know these vloggers and bloggers because they send out information.)

The senator also believes that government transparency is important in promoting freedom of information and combating disinformation.

“Dapat transparent para hindi gutom ‘yung mga nasa mainstream media sa information at hindi nag-ta-thrive ‘yung mga nagpapakalat ng mga disinformation at fake news.” (Government should be transparent so that mainstream media is not starved for news and so that those who peddle disinformation and fake news won’t thrive.)

Media-related bills

Three presidential bets – Robredo, De Guzman, and Pacquiao – through their representatives were asked about their stance on media-related bills. 

De Guzman and Robredo backed the decriminalization of libel.

Bugaoisan, speaking for Pacquiao, said the media should be accountable for everything they produce.

All three backed a Freedom of Information Act and Guitierrez said Robredo would impose a full-disclosure policy.

The candidates had different stands on the Right of Reply. Lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, De Guzman’s media liaison, said they do not agree on the media’s objection. Bugaoisan said it should not be required for the media. Gutierrez said they trust media organizations to adhere to the standards of fairness and balance in their reportage.

Pedrosa and Gutierrez thumbed down sanctions on media that propagate disinformation and misinformation. Pedrosa any sanction would be a form of censorship. Bugaoisan, however, said there should be a sanction for fake news purveyors for accountability. – Hyacinth Estrada/

Hyacinth Estrada is a Rappler Mover in Metro Manila.

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