By PIO VERZOLA JR.
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
That quote might be a startling, almost cynical take on the meaning of press freedom. But it was a respected American journalist, A.J. Liebling, who coined the now-famous aphorism. The terse statement was supposed to emphasize the harsh realities of capitalist ownership behind the noble expectation that journalists freely exercise their right, nay, fulfill their duty, to always provide the public with honest information and informed opinion.
In any case, little did Filipinos realize just how painfully that saying would apply to them on September 23, 1972. On that fateful Saturday morning, we all woke up to find no newspapers delivered to our doorsteps or sold on the sidewalks. We twiddled our radio sets (in my case, set just right beside my pillow, the better to hear the early morning news), asking with great puzzlement why they only emitted static noise on that morning.
Later in the day, we would know the reason for the total news blackout. Throughout the previous night, the big media presses and major radio-TV stations had been locked up, put under heavy armed guard, and later placed under new management controlled by Marcos and his martial law coterie.
Government-controlled print and broadcast outlets, such as the infamous Daily Express broadsheet and RPN-9 were allowed to continue. These Marcos mouthpieces enjoyed near-absolute media monopoly, spewing out the official propaganda line of the dictatorship while censoring the rest of the news. For most Filipinos, that was the first taste of martial law on its very first day: the lack of a free press.