We, media organizations, journalists, press freedom advocates and academics, raise our collective voice and declare our opposition to government requiring journalists to secure accreditation from the Presidential Communications Operations Office to be exempted from the enhanced community quarantine.
While we recognize the gravity of the situation, we assert that this imposition is unnecessary, unreasonable and unconstitutional.
The Bill of Rights, Article III of our Constitution, guarantees that:
Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
Section 7. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.
Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.
Declaring that only media workers “who bear the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) accreditation ID as issued by the PCOO may be exempted from the strict home quarantine requirement,” as announced by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, clearly violates these provisions.
We acknowledge that many media outfits and colleagues have already applied for and acquired accreditation because of the urgent need to sustain coverage. However, we stress that this should not justify preventing journalists with valid press credentials from moving around to perform their duties sans the added accreditation.
The swift and unhampered delivery of accurate information about the health crisis we face is crucial not only to keeping our people informed of the rapidly changing situation but also to arm them with the knowledge they need to cope and survive.
The daily news briefings by the Department of Health and IATF are informative but obviously leave many crucial questions from media and the public unanswered.
Better access and more timely government information in all levels could spell the difference between our countrymen getting infected or not. Government officials, in consultation with independent media groups, should immediately arrange the most effective and timely way of disseminating information nationally and in each locality.
Officials, including those from the AFP and PNP, who engage the public and media should immediately disclose if they have been exposed or infected.
We cannot afford to end up like Wuhan, where the outbreak began. We will never know exactly what happened there and even exactly how many people died because of the extreme restrictions imposed on the delivery of information. But what is most likely is that many of those deaths happened because people lacked access to adequate information that they could have used to save themselves.
Media are also frontline service providers and, as such, should be able to determine how to effectively carry out their work. This includes deciding who to deploy to the field, man the offices, stay at home, and when to rotate these duties. Most media houses have, on their own, undertaken measures to keep their staff safe.
We also recognize that reasonable restrictions that have to do with safety and health can be imposed on journalists’ movement and behavior, such as requiring disinfection before and after entering an affected place or banning face-to-face interviews with infected patients. But all such restrictions should be covered by clearly defined rules and not hamper journalists’ ability to perform their work.
What concerns us most is the possible misuse or abuse of accreditation to try and control the free flow of information, a concern rooted in this administration’s record of open hostility toward critical media.
Yet even granting good intentions, for media to submit to restrictions such as this government would impose through the PCOO accreditation is simply untenable, anathema to the tenets of press freedom and democracy as it ignores the paramount need for transparency and accountability.
We demand full respect for freedom of the press and of expression and an end to accreditation and any other attempts to control media.
Signed by the following organizations and individuals:
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Concerned Artists of the Philippines
Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines
International Association of Women in Radio and Television-Philippine Chapter
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Photojournalists’ Center for Photojournalism
Philippine Press Institute
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity
Ann Lourdes C. Lopez, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication
Bart Guingona, MediaNation
Carlos Nazareno, Democracy.Net.PH
Cong B. Corrales, associate editor, Mindanao Gold Star Daily
Danilo Arao, Department of Journalism, UP Diliman
Dominic Ligot, Democracy.Net.PH
Ellen Tordesilas, Vera Files
Felipe Salvosa II, University of Santo Tomas
Gang Badoy Capati, Rock Ed Philippines
John Nery, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Isabella Zerrudo, UP Visayas
Ivy Lisa Mendoza, Department of Journalism, UP Diliman
Jimmy Domingo, Department of Journalism, UP Diliman
Leslie Manalo-Medina, Angeles City
Lucia Tangi, Department of Journalism, UP Diliman
Luz Rimban, Asian Center for Journalism
Ma. Diosa Labiste, Department of Journalism, UP Diliman
Ma. Imelda Samson, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication
Marian Pastor Roces, Media Nation
Manny Mogato, News5 Digital
Therese San Diego Torres, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication
Zoilo Andrada JR, UP Visayas