Press freedom isn’t anybody’s gift to us
The media reported yesterday that the Marcos administration said it “respects press freedom”. We’re glad to hear that superfluity over the Bill of Rights guarantees that no one may presume to grant or arbitrarily withhold that basic freedom.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles was reported to have said in a Facebook post in Filipino, “The government, under the leadership of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., recognizes and respects press freedom in our country that is stated in the Constitution.”
It would have been big news if she said the opposite – that the son of the late dictator, after having returned from exile and won an election, neither recognizes nor respects press freedom. Of course, she won’t say that.
While Angeles was correct in avowing respect for press freedom, her statement must not inspire any interpretation that that basic right is something that a high official grants or withholds at his discretion, or that that freedom flows from anybody’s generosity.
Sec. 4 of Art. III (Bill of Rights) mandates: “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.”
The lip service to freedom of expression gushes during the observance every Aug. 30 of National Press Freedom Day under Rep. Act 11699 in honor of Marcelo H. del Pilar, who is regarded as the father of Philippine journalism.
It is noteworthy that this year, the Philippines’ ranking in the World Press Freedom Index slipped nine notches to 147th among 180 countries, according to a report in May of Reporters Without Borders (French: Reporters sans frontières, or RSF).
The RSF cited what have been described as attacks on journalists and harassment of media outlets that were perceived to be too critical of the administration of then President Duterte, who is not exactly famous for his human rights record.
The Philippine press had been regarded as among the freest in Asia, but the libertarian air changed when martial rule was imposed in 1972 by then President Marcos Sr. He padlocked media and reopened them only under the control of his cronies.
Angeles assured during the Aug. 25 oath-taking of the officers of the National Press Club: “You’re free to talk. We’re not changing anything. Whatever freedom we have now will always be our freedom. Our Constitution guarantees that.”
The more woke National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said as it marked Press Freedom Day: “Despite the recognition by law of the importance of the press, journalists still face issues on accreditation and access to government offices that they cover, labeled as purveyors of ‘fake news’ and remain under threat from a colonial-era libel law as well as from loose interpretations of laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act.”
• Economic pressures test journos
Aside from the physical threats and harassment that the militant press has to contend with, there is heavy economic pressure on them and their families.
A survey of their living and working conditions, especially of those struggling outside the circle of giant and somewhat glamorous outfits, will show how that pressure alone has stunted professional growth and twisted the ethical conduct of some practitioners.
The socio-economic pressures on the beat and special assignments are magnified when journalists cover prominent figures who operate and entertain in circumstances far above that of average media men.
Thus exposed to a lifestyle beyond their accustomed ways dictated by their modest wages, many practitioners have had to grapple with challenges not only to their skills and talents (which they can handle) but also to their social agility and ethical conduct.
Working on challenging assignments is made more difficult without ample office logistical support. Having to fend for themselves wrecks overworked and underpaid journalists laboring for media moguls enjoying the fat of the land on another level.
We strongly suggest that a professional survey group be commissioned to do an independent in-depth study on working conditions, industry standards, compensation and benefits, and their impact on the professional growth and mental health of practitioners.
• ₱73.7B lotto pot still unclaimed
No one has claimed the $1.34 billion (₱73.7 billion) jackpot of the July 29 draw of the US MegaMillion lottery. The winning ticket with six numbers picked from 1 to 70 was sold in Illinois, one of the 45 participating states.
The time for a winner to claim his prize varies from 90 days to one year, depending on the state. In Illinois, he has one year, and someone winning more than $250,000 may choose to remain anonymous.
It is possible that the winner is still consulting tax and investment experts on how to get the most out of the pot without losing a big chunk of it to taxes, and how to make the money grow.
The winner or the ticket-holder collects the prize either as a cash lump sum upfront, or receives annual payments over 30 years, increasing by 5 percent each time. The $1.34 billion prize could amount to some $747.2 million after taxes if collected in one cash payment.
Though the Illinois winner still has time to claim the prize, he has only 60 days from the July 29 draw date to choose between the cash or annuity options. That means he has 29 days left to decide.
In the 20-year history of MegaMillion, the fattest pot was $1.537 billion, won in South Carolina in 2018. The odds of hitting the top prize have been calculated to be 1-in-303 million. The next drawing tomorrow, Sept. 2, has an estimated jackpot of $169 million ($95.4 million cash).