How much press freedom does gov’t media have?-A A +A
Saturday, February 9, 2013
A QUESTION from Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) last January at the height of the Cebu Capitol stand-off could stump anyone: Did suspension of “Sugbo News” and Sugbo TV,” newspaper and cable channel paid by the provincial government, not violate press freedom?
Few would think government media could be caught in an issue involving press freedom. Media run by the state or any of its political units is controlled by it, through head of office, and can’t be free in the sense that private media can resist government meddling.
Opposing camps in the controversy over the governor’s seat, which raged from Dec. 19, 2012 to Jan. 30, 2013, expectedly had clashing views about the “temporary” closure:
l Gov. Gwen Garcia’s supporters said it suppressed the right of the two media outlets to report and comment on the top Capitol issue;
l Supporters of Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, acting governor, who issued the order, said it was within her right as Capitol administrator, a move the Provincial Board didn’t contest.
The bolt of lightning that struck “Sugbo TV” and “Sugbo News” didn’t come from outside but from within the LGU, a decision reached by Capitol’s interim top official.
Magpale cited as major reason the need to re-format the paper and the TV cable station, barely concealing her belief the program was mainly used to promote a political party’s agenda, that of her rival.
There were other reasons, such as the high cost of operating “Sugbo TV” and “Sugbo News,” but the compelling one was that the new occupant at Capitol thought she was being fired at by guns paid for by the LGU she was running.
If the roles were reversed and Gwen were vice governor installed as acting governor, she would’ve also padlocked “Sugbo TV” or
“Sugbo News” or, seeing their value as propaganda trumpets, would’ve overhauled them and changed their tune.
Apparently, Magpale couldn’t do a quick makeover.
Every president after Marcos--Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino--initially wanted to privatize radio and TV networks but all ended up keeping them. Had one president padlocked state media and sold them off, would it have violated press freedom?
Suspending Capitol media was an internal and fiscal, if political, decision. The question is not about press freedom but whether a “caretaker” could make the drastic move purportedly to avoid a distraction of her governance.
Were “Sugbo TV” and “Sugbo News” staffers ever free to criticize at all? Did they do anything except to promote Cebu and, with it, the sitting officials handling them? Capitol media writers couldn’t have lost the freedom they never had.
They were media but were unlike the private media the public relies for information and opinion and redress of their grievance. It wasn’t just a difference of press cards.
Padlocking of Capitol media was an extension of the power grab at Capitol. They seized the office of the governor and with it, power and perks over its offices and units, including “Sugbo TV” and “Sugbo News.”
As the order of the president and DILG suspending Gwen are presumed to be regular, acts of the acting governor are also presumed to be within the law.
Until the court rules that stoppage of “Sugbo TV” and “Sugbo News” was illegal, their staffers can only complain and improvise.
Recently, their principal bought them block time from private media to serve as carrier for their new version of the cable show, renamed “TV Sugbo.” (The program is cut down to four hours at CCTN, from the 24 hours at Capitol, but the message seems to be “business as usual, we’re free to make our pitch to the public.”)
Which to believe
Closure of Capitol media didn’t diminish press freedom--and, by extension, the right of the public to full information about the Capitol crisis--because private media provided that, which is as complete and balanced as private media could give.
Neither side in the battle of political forces could say it didn’t have access to regular media or it was treated unfairly.
True, one governor or the other had complaints against certain reports and certain journalists but the gripes were aired if not corrected, in one media outlet, if not another.
Flaws of some sectors of media were overcome by other sectors of media. Over all, the Cebu press, diverse and pervasive, did as best as it could.
Media helps but it is media’s public that has to sift through the torrent of conflicting messages from the warring camps--and decide which to believe.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 09, 2013.