Sunio: Not just another school club

CAMPUS journalism is a manifestation of the democratic rights and freedom of expression of students of all levels. This is why student journalists are provided with the same rights as the professional press. Sadly, because they are seen as “just students,” their supposed rights are curtailed.

It’s an extracurricular activity that not only publishes what’s hip and happening, but it is also where students express their grievances.It may be ran and funded by students, but it is a powerful tool to air the needs of the studentry and also plays a watchdog function – and also shape minds.

But because the “grownups” see the student press as “just students,” their right to genuine freedom of expression and autonomy to run their campus papers are hampered. It was easy for the higher ups to leave the case of the students hanging with remarks such as “I’ve been there. They are just kids who don’t understand anything yet.”

Ironically, if they really are just immature punks, then what have the schools and universities been teaching them all these years? Just parroting where the students have to speak what you speak?

What has happened to the ultimate holistic goal of education: to raise critical-thinking students who are aware and can think for themselves? To make students think and not just memorize?

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), a national alliance of campus journalists in the Country, had documented about 200 to 400 cases of press freedom violations every year. This includes persecutions and adversities such as censorship, harassment, red-tagging, interferences with editorial policies by the school administration, budget cuts or total discontinuation of publication fee collection, and even to the extent of libel charges against student journalists.

Some campus journalists have faced threats of expulsion or suspension, while some others have lost their right to autonomy and have been directly controlled by the school administration to become its arm, instead of the students.

One example of this is how the rules of the hiring of staff and editorial board members was taken away from the Mindanao Varsitarian, Mindanao State University’s official student publication, without the consent of the incumbent publication members. Furthermore, in 2016, the current editor-in-chief of the publication was suddenly replaced by the university administration with a head whom they have appointed (who was not even a member of the said publication before).

Until now, because of the method of selection set against the will of the Publication, Mindanao Varsitarian had not been able to make an official release since 2014.

If the campus press is silenced, who will speak and watch for the students now?

With the campus journalists bounded head, foot, and mouth, it is now easier for malefactors to move in the shadows, free of the worries of being found out or explosed.

The only entity that Mindanao Varsitarian can report this incident to is CEGP and no other legal body who can defend their rights.

Despite the existence of the Campus Journalism Act of 1991, the law is ‘toothless’ in protecting the rights of the campus journalists because of the lack of sanctions for schools who do not grant these rights to campus publications. The Campus Press Freedom Bill is also still underway. The bill seeks to provide necessary sanctions to serve the student press the freedom and autonomy they deserve.

For now, the Commission on Higher Education should strengthen the enforcement of campus press rights in the tertiary level, on the basis that the campus press is a democratic right. Campus journalism is a constitutional right granted under the right to freedom of the press and right to expression.

Furthermore, it is a scholastic activity that fosters creative and critical thinking. It also coincides with the goal of higher education to create critical-thinking students who are socially aware of their community, country, and the affairs of the two.

The campus paper could also become a basis of CHED in promulgating policies as well as in identifying issues existing in tertiary institutions.

If schools are afraid of getting the cat out of the bag, whether the cat is true or not, then they should also impress to the students the value of balanced reporting so they could be allowed to defend themselves of accusations.

In the level of basic level campus journalism as well, a more critical form of writing should also be taught to elementary and high school students. Most schools teach mere PR-ing (press release) to students and make them simply write about what is happening in the school, then the campus crush, with a little bit of poetry on the back side.

There is nothing wrong with reporting on the lighter side of life, but school paper advisers and the Department of Education (DEPED) in their Schools Press Conferences should step up their instruction higher to teaching students to be aware of economic, political, and humanitarian affairs as well; to focus on the human and political side of journalism instead of mere style, diction, and figures of speech.

It should also be impressed on the young writers to not be afraid to write down their opinion, with enough regard for fairness.
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