Prior restraint, again
At a time when the whole of Philippine society must come together to address the worst public health crisis in decades, the Duterte administration is instead engaged in abridging the people’s right to know.
With the national government’s implementation of the “Enhanced Community Quarantine” to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is requiring the accreditation of journalists and media workers intending to cover or travel within quarantine areas.
This is but another form of prior restraint, a means of controlling the flow of information. The national government will not only require accreditation but will also direct reporters and media workers to areas that they deem “safe” to cover.
If the safety and security of media workers is really of paramount importance for the PCOO, it should instead issue directives addressed to media companies on how to keep their employees safe and secure during coverage, providing them with personal protective equipment and pre- and post-coverage operating procedures. Why require a PCOO accreditation when media practitioners already have media IDs that can identify them and their media organizations when the need arises?
More questions can and should be asked, among them how the accreditation system can advance the need of the public for information on how the government is handling this national emergency. Will the “enhanced community quarantine” actually stop the contagion? Will paralyzing public mobility by putting a stop to the operations of public transportation do more good than harm? How can the order to stay at home help the homeless? How deep will the economic impact of this month-long lockdown be, especially for those who need to work for their daily sustenance? Is government support for the public health system already on maximum?
All these questions need answers— answers that can only be found by journalists on the ground, reporting what’s happening.
While the media organizations under the wing of AlterMidya Network will comply with the new requirements of the PCOO, we are complying under protest. COVID-19 is truly a cause for alarm, and needs heightened action. But this illness should not induce amnesia. We have not forgotten how the Duterte administration is attacking truth tellers from both the corporate and community media by threatening to shut down the biggest media companies, weaponizing the law, and red-tagging and killing journalists.
As we applaud our fellow journalists and media practitioners who are out in the field, braving the threat of COVID-19 to deliver the information people need at this time, we call on the national government not to use the situation as just another excuse for total control.
Protection, not accreditation!
Defend press freedom!