PHILIPPINES: Journalists sue government

The government and media struggle over issue of news reporting access during emergency situations

By Eric Ku
AsiaMedia Staff Writer

Friday, February 8, 2008

Journalists and media organizations in the Philippines filed two separate lawsuits on Jan. 28 to stop the government from restricting media coverage of emergency events.

According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 81 journalists requested the Supreme Court issue a writ of prohibition or injunction to bar the government from threatening or imposing any form of prior restraint on the press.

On Jan. 11 Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez released a memorandum, reported the International Herald Tribune, warning media organizations that they could be criminally liable if their journalists and news teams disobeyed orders from "authorized government officers and personnel during emergencies which may lead to collateral damage to properties and civilian casualties."

Director General Avelino Razon of the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced his support a couple days later. According to a report in The Inquirer, Razon defended the memorandum, saying its purpose was to remove newspersons from danger, not to threaten press freedom. He said it was standard procedure to arrest anyone who disobeys authorities during police operations, especially during emergencies such as the attempted coup at Manila's Peninsula Hotel on Nov. 29, 2007, and should be no different toward news gatherers.

After the uprising at Peninsula Hotel ended, 17 journalists were arrested and detained at the National Capital Region Police Office in Bicutan. The PNP claimed such actions were necessary in order to properly distinguish the journalists from the dissidents of the coup. Gonzalez said the memorandum was a way to avoid similar situations from occurring in the future.

Four media organizations and 36 journalists, however, disagreed and filed the other lawsuit with the Makati City Regional Trial Court, seeking PhP 10 million in damages for the arrests and detainment of journalists after the attempted coup. They also requested an injunction or temporary restraining order against the police, the military and government officials, barring them from threatening or carrying out threats against members of the media. Executive Judge Winlove Dumayas granted a 72-hour temporary restraining order that day.