By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
Press Freedom Day, an annual global observance on May 3 is not a public holiday. It was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993 as a result of the Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press in 1991 at Namibia, and led to the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media in 1993.
At that time, the African press was struggling, data from reports presented in the seminar pointed out that in the period 1969-1990 there were 17 (African) editors in jail and that 48 journalists had been killed in the line of duty. Many African states then were in transition of waging tribal wars, anti-racial campaigns, political and economic crises. Namibia had just gained its independence in 1990 after 25 years of bush wars, and as a new nation it was confronted by a widespread HIV/AIDs epidemic.
While stabilizing its governance their press was also struggling for its independence, and for their rights to freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly. The Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media was a milestone in the struggle of Africa.
World Press Freedom Day is observed to educate people, communities of their fundamental human rights and the freedom of the press and freedom of expression are among these rights. It is also to remind people that many journalists also brave death or face jail to truthfully bring the news to light. World Press Freedom Day is also meant to give people a chance to pay tribute to media practitioners who risked or lost their lives in the line of duty. It is also a time to recognize the importance of a free press to democracy so that when the freedom of the press, expression or assembly is hit by state forces or organized crime, there must be something very wrong in the country.
In the United Nation’s, Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
In a democracy the Philippines, according to the count of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), from 1986 (after the People Power) to the present, 150 journalists have been extra-judicially killed (ejk) and Justice continues to elude the victims and their survivors; and libel is still a criminal offense despite calls for its decriminalization. Also the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the Philippines is the most dangerous place for a journalist, unlike Iran in the midst of war, the Philippines has the most number of journalists killed or jailed.
In October 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) urged the Philippine government to decriminalize its 82-year old libel law.
The declaration by the UNHRC, which was adopted during the 103rd session of the United Nations, states that the provisions of the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code (RPC) penalizing libel as a criminal offense is “incompatible with Article 19, paragraph three of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” to which the Philippines is a signatory.
Recalling its General Comment No. 34 that “state parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation” the UNHRC recommended the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines, It also urged the Philippine government to compensate Davao City broadcaster Alexander “Alex” Adonis for time served in prison.”
The possibility of being arrested and imprisoned even before conviction for libel has been used to silence critical journalists. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, for example, filed 11 libel suits against 46 journalists in 2006 which was seen as an attempt to stop critical press reports on his wife’s actions.
“The UNHRC issued the declaration in response to a 2008 complaint filed by Adonis protesting his conviction and subsequent imprisonment for supposedly libeling then House Speaker Prospero Nograles when he reported over his radio program in 2006 that Nograles had run out of a hotel room without his clothes on when the husband of the woman he had supposedly spent the night with showed up. Adonis was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of five months to four years, but he questioned the decision after he had served two years.” National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) was a co-signatory to the complaint.
It is now up to the Philippine government to take the steps necessary to decriminalize libel and prevent similar occurrences, to cause the immediate dismissal of all pending cases of criminal libel, as well as to compensate Adonis and every other journalist who has been imprisoned under the provisions of the Philippine libel law. To hurry the process along, the FFFJ calls on all journalists’ and media advocacy groups as well as civil society organizations to campaign for the immediate adoption of the UNCHR recommendations, including the dropping of all pending criminal libel charges against journalists.” (from NUJP/FFFJ statement)
In observance of World Press Freedom day is a series of fora and round table discussions on May 4, 2012 in different cities of the country. In Baguio one is going to be held in the Saint Louis University campus with local members of the Philippine Press Institute, NUJP and the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club: Decriminalize Libel Now: A Forum. # nordis.net