A Dire Portent of Things to Come for Media under Anti-Terrorism Law

BY THE NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
Posted by Bulatlat
Democratic Space
Vol. VII, No. 22, July 8-14, 2007

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) treats as a serious threat to press freedom and the people’s right to know Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’s statement that, under the Human Security Act, he may recommend wiretapping journalists who government believes to be “co-mingling” with terror suspects.

In interviews with reporters, Gonzalez made much of the supposed safeguards in the anti-terrorism law and the principle that media’s sources of information are “sacred.”

Yet, in the same breath, he added: “Of course, unless there is sufficient basis or if they are being suspected of co-mingling with terror suspects.”

This is a statement as vague and as fraught with danger as many of the Anti-Terrorism Law’s provisions, especially those that supposedly define what terrorism is and who terrorists are, provisions so open-ended they could actually lead to anyone and everyone who government deems fit being tagged a terrorist.

What, we ask, constitutes “co-mingling with terror suspects?” Interviewing them? Meeting with them in pursuit of stories?

And, we stress, Gonzalez does not even talk of legally proscribed terrorists but “suspected terrorists” and of journalists being “suspected” of “co-mingling” with these terror suspects.

Gonzalez alludes to the ostensible “safeguards” the law provides against abuse.

Alas, as we have seen all too often, and not only in the case of media, such safeguards too sadly become a recourse after the fact, when rights have been trampled and freedoms ran roughshod over.

Just as disconcerting is the fact that it is Gonzalez himself who can recommend who “are being suspected of co-mingling with terror suspects” and thus fair game for wiretapping.

We still remember Gonzalez’ snide dismissal of the murder of journalists as the probable offshoot of drunken sprees or extramarital affairs, or his derisive challenge to those protesting his oftentimes inane interpretations of the law he is supposed to uphold to go to court.

Indeed, given this administration’s general apathy to the continued assaults on press freedom and the people’s right to know, as seen in its continued inaction on media killings and the continued failure of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to issue a categorical order to end the bloodshed, Gonzalez’ latest pronouncement can be nothing but a dire portent of things to come.

We call on the 14th Congress to act posthaste on this potential threat not just to press freedom but to democracy itself by reviewing or, better still, repealing altogether this law that is worse than the disease it purports to cure.

Posted by Bulatlat

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