Deeds better than words

By the stroke of a pen, President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a law making July 25 National Campus Press Freedom Day.

Deeds better than words

The law, signed on Aug. 28 and made public this week, states that safeguarding campus journalism is part of the government’s role to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression, speech, and the press.

“As part of media, the campus press is an important institution in promoting and protecting the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression,” the law states.

These are noble principles, of course, but campus and professional journalists alike would no doubt prefer to see them upheld by the government every day as a matter of course, and not merely observed once a year.

Just last month, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines condemned the police harassment of the official student publication of the University of Eastern Philippines, The Pillar, when four men visited the publication’s office and interrogated the editor in chief about a candle-lighting ceremony it had organized for the victims of recent Negros Island killings. Later, police told university officials that the ceremony had been “infiltrated” and posed a threat to campus security.

In the same month, officials of the Philippine National Police and several universities met to discuss the proposed presence of security forces on campuses and its effects on academic freedom. The police push into campuses is purportedly aimed at stopping communist groups from recruiting members into their ranks—but has also been denounced as part of government efforts to red-tag leftist groups.

Beyond the campuses, the government’s track record in safeguarding journalists hasn’t been all that impressive.

In May, the former dean of the UP College of Mass Communication, Luis Tedoro, said there have been at least 128 recorded threats and attacks against members of the press since President Rodrigo Duterte became President. The rate of harassment and assaults has so far been unprecedented, he said.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines 134th out of 180 countries this year in its World Press Freedom Index, while the International Federation of Journalists said last year the Philippines was the deadliest peacetime country for journalists in Southeast Asia.

This administration, meanwhile, has gone to court to muzzle media organizations that have been critical of its performance.

A day after the Campus Press Freedom Day law was announced, four armed men walked into the offices of a tabloid newspaper and tried to set its printing press on fire—certainly a graphic illustration of how government assurances don’t amount to a hill of beans if they are not backed by actual deeds.

Topics: National Campus Press Freedom Day , Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine National Police , College Editors Guild of the Philippines
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