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Philippine Plan Of Action On The Safety Of Journalists Launched

Philippine Plan Of Action On The Safety Of Journalists Launched
In front (from left): Ma. Imelda Samson, vice president, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication; Roby Alampay, editor-in-chief, BusinessWorld; Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Rowena Paraan, head, ABS-CBN News Public Service and Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo; Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, Commission on Human Rights; Ann Lourdes Lopez, research, policy and advocacy director, AIJC; Melanie Banayos, supervising labor and employment officer, Bureau of Working Conditions, Department of Labor and Employment; Abraham Agamata, former chief of staff, Presidential Task Force on Media Security; and Danilo Arao, professor, University of the Philippines Diliman. At the back (from left): Assistant Secretary Neal Vincent Bainto, Department of Justice; First Counselor and political officer Rafael de Bustamante Tello, Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines; Lars Bestle, head of Department for Asia, International Media Support; Red Batario, president and executive director, Center for Community Journalism and Development; Nonoy Espina, chairperson, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Luis Teodoro, deputy executive director, CMFR; Ramon Tuazon, president, AIJC; and Ranga Kalansooriya, Asia regional advisor, IMS.

Ten years ago today, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were murdered in Maguindanao. Justice remains elusive since not one of the nearly 200 accused has been convicted for the gruesome killings.

“After presenting more than 250 witnesses with the case records reaching around 240 volumes, it still remains doubtful when justice will finally be achieved for the victims and their loved ones,” a statement from the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Mass Communication declared.

“This is a symbolic gesture… (we’re) hoping that soon justice will be served especially to the journalists,” Red Batario, president and executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development, told The Philippine STAR yesterday.

The statement was distributed during the launching of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists or PPASJ yesterday, seeking to institutionalize the protection of journalists and media workers in the country.

The first of its kind in the world, the plan was crafted for 18 months through multi-stakeholder consultations with media, government, the academe as well as local and international press freedom organizations. It provides a roadmap for addressing five concrete flagship areas deemed crucial to improving the safety of journalists and the media environment in the Philippines over five years from 2020 to 2024.

The five concrete flagship areas and the goals are integrity and professionalism, conducive working conditions, safety and protection mechanisms, criminal justice system and public information, and journalism education and research.

It was developed under the Safeguarding Press Freedom in the Philippines Project funded by the European Union and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and implemented by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) and International Media Support (IMS).

The proposed actions, outputs and institutions involved were enumerated under the flagship areas covering internal and external challenges faced by journalists and media workers.

To promote integrity and professionalism, for instance, the plan seeks to enhance competencies and ethical standards of male and female journalists.  Under this, media organizations are encouraged to perform “internal review/assessment of performance and professionalism of male and female journalists and media workers towards strengthening self-regulation and adherence to ethical standards.”

“It will raise self-esteem among journalists and improve public trust and confidence in the media. Professionalism will also be pursued and promoted by independent national and local press councils committed to free and responsible news media,” the plan states.

Conducive working conditions highlight the rights of journalists and media workers to be assured of economic and job security, and occupation health and safety (OSH), as provided for by national laws and international protocols.

“It considers the different working relationships or work status of journalists (e.g. employed/self-employed, correspondents, stringers) and the corresponding economic and professional benefits, physical and mental health care, and social security, which contribute to the general safety and protection of journalists and media workers,” the plan declares.

Customized standards

According to Melanie Banayos, supervising labor and employment officer of the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Working Conditions, the media industry is peculiar and would need customized standards to ensure the protection of its workers.

Banayos welcomed the action plan as she noted that the DOLE could work with the various media employers and workers to determine how they could benefit from general labor laws and those on OSH.

Without a complaint, Banayos said her bureau could not “cover” the media organizations. She suggested a tripartite council to discuss all work-related concerns of journalists.

“It’s not like a hotel where we can just go there and find out the workers’ conditions. You work in the field and we don’t know exactly what happens when you perform your duties,” Banayos told The STAR.

“Are you given safety gear when you cover?” she asked.

She said they would also not know, for instance, the compensation for non-regular employees, or when employees doing fieldwork could seek overtime pay in the course of their daily jobs.

There is an existing Broadcast Industry Tripartite Council or BITC, but Banayos pointed out that this covers even the print media, which may have different types of operations.

Safety and protection

Another flagship area focuses on institutionalizing mechanisms for safety and protection. Based on the plan, the work will entail risk mapping and safety training courses for journalists and media workers; monitoring, documenting and reporting attacks and threats; providing quick responses; and providing safe spaces, tools and protective equipment.

Since 1986 when democracy was restored, the Philippines has been ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with 165 work-related cases of journalist killings and frequent reports of physical and digital attacks and threats.

On the criminal justice system, the plan aims to map and examine laws and policies that imperil or undermine press freedom and journalists’ safety. It will work for the repeal and amendment of such laws and push for policies that will protect and foster fundamental rights and freedoms, including press freedom.

“This area will also establish and strengthen legal defense services for journalists and media workers, and monitor and report on court cases involving crimes against journalists,” the plan declares.

Public information, journalism education and research or media information literacy (MIL) initiatives will contribute to greater public understanding and appreciation of the role of the news media in protecting democracy and an enhanced recognition by media audiences of their responsibility in safeguarding media freedom.

“Journalism education can be more relevant by integrating safety and protection in the curriculum and research agenda. In addition, journalists and media workers are empowered by continuing human rights and legal education,” the plan states.

Melinda Quintos-de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said these external factors present the big picture in dealing with press freedom.

Danilo Arao, professor in the Department of Journalism of UP Diliman’s College of Mass Communication, said the Presidential Task Force on Media Security established in 2016 was initially seen as an effort to protect journalists and media workers. But he said the task force has been reduced to an “apologist” for refusing to publicly hold President Duterte accountable for his actions against the media. - With Ghio Ong