A media group condemned a Camarines Norte Provincial Council resolution barring journalists from covering its sessions unless they present a negative antigen test.
In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the inclusion of media practitioners among guests and observers who must prove they are not infected with the virus constitutes prior restraint.
“The battle against the spread of the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to impose prior restraint. While we recognize the alarming rate of COVID-19 infection, the burden of ensuring safety protocols should not be with journalists but with the local government,” the NUJP said.
Last week, the council approved a resolution requiring a negative rapid antigen test result for all non-Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) personnel who wish to cover the sessions.
The resolution said it aims to protect the members and staff of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan against COVID-19.
The NUJP however said the resolution would prevent the media from playing its role as a watchdog of the government.
“All sessions should be done publicly and should be open to all media practitioners covering the SP. It is repressive to require the media to spend P2,000 – P2,300 pesos weekly for the rapid antigen test given the financial constraint of local newsrooms,” the group explained.
“NUJP reiterates its stand that the media should be treated as frontliners, hence should be covered by free routine COVID-19 tests,” it said, adding it is the duty of the local government to provide free testing to all local media covering the sessions.
To provide further protection for all those present during council sessions, the NUJP also recommended the local government also should designate media area to separate them from the guests and observers in the session hall.
Sixteen local media practitioners in the province also signed a petition against the resolution. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)