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    Posted July 31, 2014 by

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    'Expand Filipino journalists' right to info'

    AFTER the Maguindanao Massacre in Southern Philippines on November 23, 2009 that killed 58 people, including 31 local journalists, some lawmakers claimed something must be done to stop heinous crimes involving journalists.
    At the Lower House, the Committee on Public Information has endorsed plenary passage of a proposed bill expanding the coverage on journalists' right to refuse to reveal the source of a news report obtained in confidence.
    The House panel chaired by Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental said majority of Congress members approved Committee Report 50 on House Bill 362 (in consolidation with HB Nos. 1629 and 1963) authored principally by Reps. Raul del Mar of Cebu City, Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, Partylist Maximo Rodriguez and Harlin Abayon of Northern Samar Province.
    HB 362 seeks to exempt the publisher, editor, or reporter of any publication from revealing the source of published news or information obtained in confidence by including within its coverage journalists from broadcast, news agencies and internet publications.
    Republic Act No. 53 has been the journalist's privilege statute which ensures he/she can refuse to reveal the source of a confidential news report or information except when the court or a Committee of Congress finds that the revelation is demanded by the security of the State.
    "The reason for the rule is that the identity of sources of confidential news information must be protected, otherwise the spring of data for news or commentary dries up and the mission of the press to check and balance and expose wrongdoing is impeded," Del Mar stressed.
    With the dawn of modern technology, HB 362 expands the coverage to broadcast journalists, news agencies and internet publications which are otherwise not covered by the Sotto Law.
    "Protection extends to the publisher, station manager and/or manager, bureau chief, editor, news editor, writer or reporter, correspondents, opinion columnists or commentators, cartoonists, photographers, or any practitioner involved in the gathering, writing, editing of and commenting on the news," the authors clarified.
    Oddly, however, the current privilege applies only to the publisher, editor, columnist or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation. The law is silent about journalists from broadcast stations, news or wire agencies, and internet newspapers, magazines and other publications," they further explained.
    "It is an omission that must be filled, an anomaly that must be corrected, the journalists envisioned by the law cannot be confined to print practitioners," the committee report stressed.
    Like the Freedom of Information Bill sponsored by Senator Grace Poe, which is being deliberated in the Upper House, will these consolidated measures guarantee the safety of both print and broad journalists while gathering information?
    The House of Representatives has also approved on third and final reading a measure seeking to declare every 23th of November as Philippine Press Freedom Day to give recognition to the importance of press freedom in the Philippines.
    The House Committee on Public Information on Monday recommended the approval of House Bill 4128, which substituted House Bill 635 authored by Reps. Christopher Co and Rodel Batocabe.
    "The measure, declaring November 23rd of every year as Philippine Press Freedom Day, shall promote and uphold freedom and heighten awareness on press freedom so that journalists may freely and securely report the truth no matter who gets hurt by it," said Rep. Jorge Almonte of Misamis Occidental Province, committee chairman.
    Co said while the Philippines is considered to have the freest press in Asia, it is also bombarded with numerous cases of journalists who disappeared and got killed.
    "Remembered as the single deadliest event for journalists in recent history was what happened on November 23, 2009, the Maguindanao massacre is and continues to be a symbol of a fight for press freedom and their rights in the practice of their profession," Co said.
    He stressed: "The commemoration of Philippine Press Freedom Day shall serve as a fitting reminder that we will never forget the sacrifices of these journalists who gave up their lives in the practice of their profession."
    "The Maguindanao massacre is a wanton violation of the rights, and the day that such an abuse of power and machinery happened at the expense of innocent truth seekers must be a day to commemorate and honor their sacrifices to prevent another ignominy in the history of the Philippine press," Batocabe said.
    Under the measure, all heads of government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations as well as local government units and employers in the private sector, shall encourage and afford sufficient time and opportunities for their employees to engage and participate in any related activity conducted within the premises of their respective offices or establishments to celebrate Philippine Press Freedom Day.
    With these two measures being pushed at the Lower House, journalists will be watching like hawks!

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