The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) slammed a bill at the House of Representatives wanting to jail journalists who generically use the word “Lanao” to refer to both Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur Provinces.
In a position paper, the group “strongly urge[d] the House Committee on Public Information to reject Lanao del Norte 1st District Rep. Mohamad Khalid Q. Dimaporo’s House Bill 4780 proposing jail time of up to six years and fines of up to P100,000 for journalists if they fail to distinguish between the Lanao provinces in their reports.
“If passed, the bill would violate Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, to wit: ‘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,’” NUJP said.
At a House hearing last last week, Dimaporo said Iligan City and Lanao del Norte suffer whenever reports use the generic name “Lanao” when these refer to Lanao del Sur because of the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
“We lose potential investors because they think that Lanao del Norte is also involved in the ongoing war in our southern neighbor,” Dimaporo explained.
The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) in the same hearing also opposed the measure.
“Such practice is only probably due to space and time limitations and not malice,” the KBP representative said.
Dimaporo admitted during the hearing he failed to consider talking first to journalists and media outfits before filing his bill.
The NUJP said Congress should not readily craft laws punishing journalists, adding good journalism could not be legislated.
“Because journalism, while a profession, is also an extension of the right to free expression in the service of the people’s right to know, we believe it is the duty of the state to encourage and support good journalism instead of seeking to craft laws that would only serve to stifle or force into conformity the freedom of the press and of expression,” the NUJP said.
The Union also took exception to Iloilo Rep. Sharon Garin’s recommendation for a review of laws that may protect “bad journalists.”
“We maintain that no such laws exist, only laws that are invariably used to suppress good journalism, such as the criminal libel law,” the NUJP said.
“We reiterate our long-standing demand to decriminalize libel,” it added.
Citing other bills before the committee saying the Philippines is among the countries with the most number of media killings, NUJP said journalists need more laws to protect and promote – not suppress – good journalism and free expression. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)