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Sanctioning a TV show

"Respect is earned; it is never imposed."



The Philippine National Police leadership expressed its displeasure over the supposed inaccurate and unfair portrayal of the organization in the popular TV series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano.” The long-running teleserye is being accused of giving a wrongful portrayal of police characters which is detrimental to the public image of the police force. As a result, the PNP is threatening to sue and impose sanctions on the program.

There is something wrong when the PNP leadership threatens to impose sanctions on the people behind a TV program. The television episode in question is protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech and expression under Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution. Freedom of expression is one of the cherished rights in a democracy. The marketplace of ideas, knowledge of information, debate on public issues or matter of public interest without fear of reprisals is critical in a working democracy. Thus, full protection of this right is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Yet no right is absolute. Every right is subject to restrictions and limitations defined by law as interpreted by the Courts. In Philippine case law, which is derived from U.S. Court decisions, freedom of expression is circumscribed by the clear and present danger rule. As defined in Eastern Broasting Corporation v. Dans, Jr., laid down the following guideline: All forms of media, whether print or broast, are entitled to the broad protection of the freedom of speech and expression clause. The test for limitations on freedom of expression continues to be the clear and present danger rule—that words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the lawmaker has a right to prevent. The well entrenched rule is that censorship is allowable only under the clearest proof of a clear and present danger of a substantive evil to public safety, public morals, public health, or any other legitimate public interest. In Victoriano vs. Elizalde Rope Workers Union, the Court ruled that it is only where it is unavoidably necessary to prevent an immediate and grave danger to the security and welfare of the community that infringement of religious freedom may be justified, and only to the smallest extent necessary to avoid the danger.

As a protected right, any form of prior restraint bears the presumption of invalidity. Prior restraint has been defined as official governmental restrictions on any form of expression in advance of actual dissemination. However, the threat of reprisals or sanctions is also a very effective form of prior restraint anathema to the spirit of the Constitution. For the PNP to now threaten to arbitrarily punish or actually punish the people behind the teleserye is effectively tantamount to prior restraint. The grievance of the PNP leadership is best ventilated in a proper forum, namely the courts and until and unless the courts issue the proper order to restrain the television the PNP cannot threaten unilaterally much less actually impose sanctions on the program. The burden is on the censor to justify any imposition of prior restraint.

While I believe the PNP is within its right to protest or express its indignation when its public image is tarnished or is being tarnished by the media, there is a right platform to do so, and the immediate resort is to course its grievance through proper channels such as the MTRCB and eventually to the courts. It can in no way dictate or impose its will on media.

By any measure, however, any undue interference by the PNP and the DILG on the plot of Ang Probinsyano and force it to conform to its liking is repulsive to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. Any resort by the government to strong arm tactics on media is to lay the ground work for the establishment of crony media much like during the Marcos dictatorial regime. The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) puts it most bluntly when it said in a press release: “This conveys a chilling message to all TV producers, writers, and directors: do not criticize us or cast us in an unflattering light, or risk retaliation in various means.”

“They should stick to cleaning up their own ranks of real-life destabilizers, human rights violators, and other shady suspect characters if they really want to project an image of credibility to the Filipino people.” 

A captured media by the government can only dish out what it wants for the public to consume. This kind of media suppresses freedom of expression and stifles the free flow of information and debate of public opinion which is repugnant to the workings of a democracy. If at all, any criticism on the government, including the PNP, must be seen as a challenge to improve its public image by performing faithfully its mandate.

Respect must be earned and never imposed.

Topics: Philippine National Police , Concerned Artists of the Philippines , Constitution
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