Why defend the press?

Pulse Asia survey says: Arroyo’s ratings unchanged.

Very interesting, since the survey covers the eventful period between the People Power anniversary and the Fort Bonifacio brouhaha -which means, much of the period of “national emergency” (the survey covered Feb. 18 to Mar. 4), is the way the survey attempts a snapshot of public opinion on her actions.

1. First of all, her performance rating (as with all figures, survey results are plus or minus numbers). On a national level:

Approve: 26% (in October it was 24%)

Disapprove: 50% (in October, it was 52%)

Undecided: 24% (the same as in last October)

Pulse Asia says: with margin of error, it means things haven’t really changed.

2. The President’s trust ratings, nationally:

Big Trust: 22% (21% in October)

No/Small Trust: 50% (55% in October)

Undecided: 28% (25% in October)

3. Performance and Trust ratings “before and during presidential proclamation 1017”


Approve- before PP1017, it was 23%; after PP1017, 27%
Disapprove- before, 49%; during, 50%
Unsure- before, 27%; during, 23%

Trust- 24% before PP1017; 21% during PP1017
Distrust- 45% before; 51% during
Unsure- 32% before; 27% during

4. Performance ratings “before and and during presidential proclamation 1017” (Nationally)

Approve- 23% before, 27% during
Disapprove- 49% before, 50% during
Undecided- 27% before, 23% during

Pulse Asia concludes,

However, there are a few notable changes before and after 24 February 2006, specifically the drop in the President’s approval (-17 percentage points) and trust (-15 percentage points) ratings as well as the increase in her disapproval (+17 percentage points) and distrust (+19 percentage points) ratings in the Visayas. The differences in the responses of Class ABC before and after Proclamation 1017 are also large. But further statistical analyses indicate that while the differences among the Visayans are significant, those for Class ABC are not, owing to the small size of Class ABC. [Those belonging to Class ABC constitute at most 10% of the total population.] …

President Arroyo’s March 2006 ratings are a significant improvement over her July 2005 ratings. Approval increased by 7-percentage points since July 2005, while disapproval and distrust declined by 8- and 9-percentage points, respectively. Nevertheless the President’s ratings have not reverted to their level before questions on the legitimacy of her presidency arose. These have remained at critically low levels, still lower than that of any other Philippine president in the polling history of the country.

And what do people really worry about?

A. Personally, to remain healthy: 48%; to finish schooling or have kids finish school, 43%; to have enough to eat every day, 37%

B. In terms of living, keeping inflation under control: 51%; fighting graft and corruption in government: 37%; low pay of workers: 36%

In other news…

The Solicitor-General, by all accounts a decent man, has either quit or been fired.

The government creates an “action group” for national security purposes. Not a good thing, some people say.

Exporters warn of threat from strong peso but BSP says rising peso is good for the economy. OFW’s aren’t too pleased with the appreciating peso, either, are they?

Two new possible locations for Malacañan Palace: Camp Aguinaldo or Clark Field, Pampanga.

Billy Esposo has quite an interesting column on what different groups wanted, various kinds of transitional councils, and how government is blurring information.

Dan Mariano thinks it’s an exaggeration to compare things now, to martial law -but doesn’t go as far as saying it can’t get that way in the future.

The Inquirer editorial talks of command responsibility.

There’s a splendid editorial in the Thai newspaper, The Nation, today: Peaceful revolt gains steam -Anti-Thaksin group’s approach enables it to take high moral ground

[T]he anti-Thaksin movement – made up of the urban-based middle class, civil society and a broad, growing cross-section of the population – apparently knows better than to appeal to the PM’s conscience to compel him to step down. Having endured Thaksin’s misrule for five years, they are well aware that this remorseless self-serving politician cannot be moved by reason, much less by a sense of guilt or shame.

That’s why the anti-Thaksin camp chose the non-violent path and to exercise the citizenry’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to drive home their powerful, unambiguous message: a democratic ruler derives his a legitimacy from the people, and the people can take back that which has been given. Under normal circumstances, such leadership questions should and must be decided at the ballot box.

However, it cannot be emphasised enough that elections are but one of several key features of a democracy. Other important elements of a genuine democracy include functioning check-and-balance mechanisms, independent watchdogs to ensure a level playing field for political parties to compete in free and fair elections, as well as unfettered civil liberties, including freedom of the media and the right to freedom of expression.

Read, too, an account in the same paper, of what it’s like to be with the protesters: Ordinary folks roused to defend democracy.

My Arab News column for this week happens to be Filipinos Should Take Heart From Thais.

An article in the Inquirer reports, Award-winning radio show axed: PCIJ also bares harassment. The PCIJ in its blog, speaks of the curious nature of the efforts to secure a search warrant to search its premises.

An entry by the Sassy Lawyer on the PCIJ is very interesting. She and I have often differed on opinions regarding political questions, because from my point of view, Sassy tends to prefer a literal interpretation of events and law. A good case in point were our differing reactions to the Hello, Garci issue. She felt it was a violation of the law to listen to, much less reproduce, them. Others, including myself, felt it was our duty to not only listen to them, but to make them available. She advocated the strictest interpretation of the law; we advocated what we believed to be the limits and the spirit of the law -and at times, a higher law- as well. Her unpopular but highly principled stand earned her a column in the Manila Standard-Today, making her the first Filipina blogger to make the transition from online publishing to main stream media (however, she believes she is not “exactly” a part of media -mainstream, that is). So she has little sympathy for the PCIJ, which is fine, disagrees with some things they’ve done, which is her right; but overlooks the fact that what she denounced has been decided upon by the Supreme Court -which upheld the PCIJ.

In the present case, she believes that there’s a tempest in a teapot because no warrant has been issued, and more to the point, the courts have every right to issue one. Does anyone deny the right of the courts to issue a warrant? Of course not. But the proper question is, when is it proper to issue a warrant for the search of a newspaper’s premises for material that is “subversive” (under the present circumstances, a phrase to be mistrusted and at least, questioned prior to a search and not after, in a line of work requiring access to all kinds of information)? Or which the government says incites sedition (a crime that can be prosecuted with great latitude and discretion by the state)? This is a point the Christian Science Monitor makes, however parenthetically, in its report on the Philippine political situation:

“The problems of this country are so profound, there’s a prolonged impasse,” says Sheila Coronel, director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, responsible for a series of ground-breaking studies detailing the depths of political corruption, nepotism, and incompetence at all levels. “I don’t see any solution any time soon.”

Ms. Coronel avoids overtly taking sides, but investigators have asked for search warrants to look through the center’s records. It’s just the latest attempt at stifling criticism that government officials see as inciting sedition.

The state has certain rights of its own, which are duties when it comes to protecting national security; that’s a given. In the case of media, which can only properly operate when free speech is guaranteed and protected, the state’s inherent or even statutory authority, just because it exists, shouldn’t be exercised gratuitously. To do so is to stifle criticism.

Let’s take a similar example, which applies to the inherent authority of media owners, which in many ways can be considered even more absolute and unquestionable than the state’s. A good case is that of Tony Abaya, one of Sassy Lawyer’s fellow columnists in the Manila Standard-Today. His column, at one point, was ordered discontinued by the publisher of the paper, because Abaya had turned critical of the President (which was contrary to “the editorial position of the newspaper”). A hugh and cry arose, however, to the extent that the newspaper, both to keep responsive to its readers and maintain some of its remaining credibility, reconsidered the decision. Was the owner of the paper within his rights? Almost certainly. And wasn’t the paper entitled to a frankly pro-administration editorial position? Indubitably. Therefore, its publisher and staff can hire and fire on the basis of the editorial line. But that doesn’t mean they should -and in the end, they had to relent, on the simple argument that first, the readers didn’t want Abaya to go, and second, if the editorial line were to be so stringently enforced, the paper’s reputation would suffer: it might as well be published by the National Printing Office or the Philippine Information Agency.

I have heard some lawyers say that freedom of speech and expression are “preferred rights,” although I’m not sure if this is based on actual precedent or simply their opinion. However, in the case of democracies and our country’s history, the state has a heavy burden: that of self-control of its own authority, even in the face of what it views as the excesses of the media. Why is this so? Because the media are the thin, but institutional front line, in the broader public’s relationship with the government when it comes to free speech and expression. The moment any government intrudes into media, then the only thing between the government and its policies on expression and communication, is the citizenry itself. The citizenry, unlike the media, doesn’t even have the advantage of being able to band together, institutionally, when it’s threatened by the state. Each citizen wanting to assert his or her rights can be ruthlessly suppressed once media is out of the way.

And this is why governments in general, and free societies in particular, are jealous and suspicious of any poking about by the state, in the goings-on in media. You judge media by its output, not by its internal processes; intrude and interfere in those internal processes, when it comes to putting forward opinion or gathering and publishing news, and you immediately skew what is produced. That can only be unhealthy and dangerous. Ellen Tordesillas explains how journalists should handle the issues.

As Bryanton Post asks, pointing to the possibility of a raid on the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, is it now a case of libel out, raids in?

Wikipedia has a thorough article on freedom of speech.

How much is enough? thirtysomething has an entry indicating a study which shows 60% of people would rather fold than resist in a situation where government becomes repressive.

Recent comments by some readers reminds me of book titled The Vote of the Poor: Modernity and Tradition in People’s Views of Leadership and Elections. Two of its conclusions are interesting and relevant:

6. Corruption is widely seen as making a bad leader. To be good, a leader must have the following attributes: (a) God-fearing, (b) helpful, (c) loyal, (d) responsible, (e) intelligent, (f) hardworking, (g) faithful to one’s word, (h) principled, and (i) trustworthy. Rural and female participants look for intelligence, while urban participants value religiosity. Older participants give priority to helpfulness, while youth and male groups emphasize a leader’s sense of responsibility. Participants tend to cast their sight on local officials for examples of good leaders and on national officials for examples of bad leaders.

8. A leader’s legitimacy is widely seen as emanating from the people, specifically, in the exercise of the constitutional right to vote. But the youth stress that an elected official must be followed to be truly legitimate. A leader can lose legitimacy in two senses. First, acts of corruption, illegal activities, misdeeds, or undesirable traits make the people lose their confidence in, loyalty to, and affection for a leader, regardless of whether or not the leader is removed from office. Second, such events as “impeachment,” “expiration of term,” and “people power” result in the leader’s loss of legitimacy.

Now we come to a message board that asks, how many people supported the American revolution? The standard answer, which I recall, was that a third were for independence, a third loyal to Britain, and a third didn’t care or were neutral. Apparently, according to the board, the source of that view referred not to the American revolution, or even Britain, but American views toward the French Revolution.

And other that explains why a tiny minority, the Bolsheviks, won the Russian Revolution.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

67 thoughts on “Why defend the press?

  1. Ignorance is not a character David; it is but one of the bad attitudes wrongly encouraged by many and the one important thing that needs to be changed within in order to reawaken an ailing society from slumber.

  2. John Marzan wrote:
    “So I don’t know if it’s really just her “highly principled stand” that landed her the job or that her views are more in line with the “editorial position of the newspaper” than Tony’s.”

    That’s a VERY CHEAP SHOT. Unfortunately, we’re finding more of this fabricated accusations and guesswork being bandied about when people’s opinions don’t match their own.

  3. MitaMS,

    Sadly, no side seems immune to putting other people who don’t share their opinions in a box:

    “Way I see it, every person who propagated those tapes by copying and disseminating is either 1) a part of the ploy; 2) a business opportunist who intended and/or actually made money from the tapes, directly or indirectly; 3) a political opportunist who sought visibility with the hope that with the downfall of one administration, he could hold a lucrative post in the next; or 4) simply and plainly gullible.”

    source: http://www.houseonahill.net/index.php/blog/permalink/admission-manipulation-gullibility-idiocy/2/

  4. cvj,
    putting people in a box – four boxes as a matter of fact, and questioning someone’s princiiples are two VERY different things…if you can’t make the distinction, I’m really sorry for you.

  5. MitaMS, the above was written in relation to your point on “fabricated accusations and guesswork being bandied about when people’s opinions don’t match their own” of which the above is an example of, and is not about anyone’s principles or lack of it. I don’t have enough information to make that judgement one way or the other.

  6. What I do not understand at this point is why we’re focusing on the persons who said things, rather than on what they said.

    Another case of politics of personalities, not issues?

  7. Good question. The conversation tends to degrade when the discussion takes an inward turn away from the primary subjects. However, considering the growing repression outside, maybe no holds barred give and takes between opposing parties in these weblogs is something we ought to enjoy while it lasts. (Of course, in the process, let’s always take care not to abuse the hospitality of our host.)

  8. Joselu, your statement and question, indeed, is a very good one.

    Regarding the PCIJ search warrant incident, you said: “seems that there is some paranoia & over reacting going on. Why do people in this country go to the senate & media to complain? Why not go to court?”

    It would have been nice had you provided us your own analysis. But since you only threw rhetorical questions, may I also throw a rhetorical one?

    Could the reason be that people are now turning to persons and institutions they still trust?

  9. xxx
    From MitaMS:

    John Marzan: “So I don’t know if it’s really just her “highly principled stand” that landed her the job or that her views are more in line with the “editorial position of the newspaper” than Tony’s.”

    That’s a VERY CHEAP SHOT. Unfortunately, we’re finding more of this fabricated accusations and guesswork being bandied about when people’s opinions don’t match their own.

    cheap shot? fabricated accusations? if you’re all that honest, you would have included the relevant parts of my comment too, MitaMS:

    I believe that Sassy Laywer (who announced on July 4, 2005 that she was hired by Manila Standard) was supposed to be Tony Abaya’s replacement.

    When Abaya’s June 30, 2005 article was initially spiked by Mr. Razon’s paper for being too critical of Mrs. Arroyo, Mr. Abaya tendered his resignation, as any self-respecting person would do under that situation.

    Here are the facts, MitaMS:

    fact 1) Tony Abaya’s article on June 30, 2005 was not published initially by Mr. Razon for being too critical of Mrs. Arroyo.

    fact 2) Tony Abaya tendered his resignation (in Malaya’s July 2, 2005 article.)

    fact 3) Sassy Lawyer announced on July 4, 2005 that she was hired by Mr. Razon to write a column for Manila Standard.

    Of course, i have my own conclusions, which was — i believe mr. razon tried to replace abaya with someone whose views are more in line with manila standard paper.

    i’m sure you have your own conclusions too about this deal, miss MitaMS, and you’re entitled to it.

    Now, she may protest that she’s not “pro-arroyo” but an “independent”, but i find that laughable. That’s like saying Winnie Monsod is not “pro-arroyo” but an “independent” too. It doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    Sure, they may criticize Arroyo every now and then, but nobody will mistake them for being anything else other than pro-arroyo.

    (I myself have criticized pretty much all of the opposition at one point or another, but i don’t go out pretending i’m anti-opposition.)

    What I do not understand at this point is why we’re focusing on the persons who said things, rather than on what they said.

    Another case of politics of personalities, not issues?

    My criticism of Sassy Lawyer and her opinions are nothing personal, Jun Limjap, although I do recall a few years back na minaliit niya ang blog ko, pretty much calling it crap, dahil konti lang raw ang nagbabasa, and that my blog will never amount to anything.

    Anyway, interesting rin basahin itong nangyari kay Dean Jorge Bocobo at Connie Veneracion

  10. you waggish columnists (sassy and mlq3) are crazy fools. but i enjoy your rebuttals and defenses. crazy world.

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