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The Bedan Roar: Roaring against Censorship by Joel Pablo Salud

It was mid-morning of a torrid desert-like Monday, the 23rd of April, when, scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, an image wooshed past me. I scrolled back, and there it was: a magazine cover reputedly belonging to San Beda high school’s The Bedan Roar.

The one who reposted the cover design said the high publication recently suffered what could be an act of censorship by the school administration: the ‘closing down’ of distribution lines (even after more than a thousand-five-hundred copies had been printed) allegedly for being ‘too critical’.

I closely studied the cover design. Here, the President was portrayed as sitting on a ‘bloody iron throne ala Game of Thrones’ over a pile of dead bodies. In another place, PCOO’s Mocha Uson took on the face of an ‘ugly lying Pinnochio’.

 

 

In the wake of the stoppage, The Bedan Roar issued a statement, saying, in part, “It is our responsibility and duty to tell the truth of any situation. This is why we would like to formally announce that our magazine would no longer be released despite 1,700 copies have already been printed for the students and the community. The reason for the halt order was because the magazine’s contents allegedly contain material that did not pass the standards of the school and was considered not approved. It was said to be too critical and too negative for the community of San Beda, which is why publishing and printing it alone has been considered unauthorized.”

To add, “Due to the demand from students to view the said magazine, we have chosen instead to upload issue #2 online.”

SERIOUS CHARGE

I have stood as lecturer to campus journalists long enough to know this is a serious charge. Some believe that being a high school publication all the more makes it subject to question.

Young campus journalists have been known, so critics say, to push th boundaries of news writing way over the claims and affirmation of available evidence, to say nothing of opinion.

Kids are too easily swayed by what they read or see in others, so they believe, and this is true not only for kids in general, but those who dream of being journalists

While as a journalist I would always open myself to a healthy serving of public doubt and inquiry to my claims, the ones heaped on these young journalists were uncalled for.

The cover design is no exaggeration. In fact, the President himself had boasted of more than 12,000 to as high as 20,000 dead in the war on drugs. These figures have been substantiated by several human rights organizations, opposition senators, and foreign and local news reports.

If anything, the cover design of The Bedan Roar magazine did little justice to the boast of the President that we should expect 20,000 to 30,000 more killed, if he had his way. The artist can only do so much, by way of artistic rendering, to fit the exact number of dead bodies in a magazine space.

Let’s not even touch on the artwork showing PCOO’s Mocha Uson as the lying Pinocchio. At best, the editors owe Pinocchio an apology.

If the magazine were to fall under the category of ‘being too critical,’ it should depict the President as pulling the trigger himself. The President sitting on a throne over dead bodies shouldn’t even ruffle the feathers of the staunchest defenders of metaphor.

CENSORSHIP: NOTHING NEW

During Marcos’ martial law regime, the clampdown on the press, including the campus press, kicked off a day after the declaration of military rule, particularly during the issuance of the Letter of Instruction No. 1.

The said Letter of Instruction gave power to Marcos’ press secretary and defense secretary to “take over and control or cause the taking over and control of the mass media for the duration of the national emergency, or until otherwise ordered by the President or by his duly-designated representatives

In Rosalinda Pineda-Ofreneo’s “The Press Under Martial Law” written in 1984, she enumerated the publication titles that suffered under the iron-hand rule, including the Philippines Graphic’s predecessor, the Weekly Graphic, under the ownership then of its publisher Tonypet Araneta.

“As a result of this order, all newspapers and magazines (including student publications) were closed down. Among these were the more critical periodicals classified as anti-Marcos, notably the Manila Times, Daily Mirror, and Taliba of the Roces clan; Manila Chronicle of Eugenio Lopez; Philippines Free Press of the Locsins; Graphic of Tonypet Araneta; and Asia-Philippines Leader of the Jacintos. At the same time, leading media men were arrested and detained. Among them were publishers Joaquin P. Roces and Eugenio Lopez, Jr.; editors
Amando Doronila, and Luis Mauricio (Weekly Graphic); columnists Maximo Soliven and Ernesto Granada; and reporters Napoleon Rama and Roberto Ordoñez.

On Sept. 25, the Department of Public Information (DPI) issued two orders. Order No. 1 stipulated that all media publications were to be cleared first by the DPI and that the mass media shall publish objective news reports, whether of local or foreign source. No editorial comment shall be permitted. Extraneous materials are not to be inserted in any news item. Expressly prohibited are materials that are seditious or that tend toward disorder, lawlessness, and violence. In view of the state of national emergency in the Philippines, no foreign correspondence may be filed in this country which criticizes the Government and its duly constituted authorities

“Order No. 2 prohibited printers ‘from producing any form of publication for mass dissemination without permission from the DPI.’ On Oct. 28, Presidential Decree No. 33 came out, penalizing ‘the printing, possession, distribution, and circulation of printed materials which are immoral or indecent, or which defy the Government or its officers, or which tend to undermine the integrity of the Government or the stability of the State.’ The penalty for violation shall be ‘prision correccional in its minimum period.

“With martial law, publications allowed to operate were limited to those controlled by persons identified with or close to the Marcos Administration. Among them were the Philippines Daily Express of Roberto Benedicto, Times Journal of Benjamin Romualdez, Bulletin Today of Hans Menzi, and Evening Post of the Tuveras.”

SUPPRESSION OF THE CAMPUS PRESS

In a report filed years ago by Bulatlat.com titled “Campus Press Freedom: Fighting the Fight That’s Worth Fighting For,” it was mentioned that restrictions and censorship imposed on the campus press take on different forms.

“To many college papers, the issue of campus press freedom dates back to the martial law years —nearly three decades ago. In Metro Manila, the National University’s student paper National and University of Manila’s own publication have remained closed since Marcos imposed martial law in 1972. Similarly, The Beacon of the University of Baguio has been closed since 1994. In Tuguegarao, Cagayan, the Louisian Courier of Saint Louis College shut down due to hoarding of funds by the administration. At the University of Northern Philippines, the administration has been withholding funds from various student papers (The Rabbi, NewsCAS, EdificeNightingale and The Defender). At the Vargas College, the administration controls the student paper, The Flame, by withholding publication fees and through censorship.

The report added, “It is a different case in other campuses where college administrators reign over the student press by controlling the collection and disbursement of publication fees, imposing harsh academic requirements on the newspaper staff or outright censorship. At the Sienna College in Quezon City, school owners automatically take 50%  of the P400 publication fee (for the Red Lily) to fund the administration’s own newsletter. In Meycauayan, Bulacan, funds of the Meycauayan College paper, College Chronicle, are controlled by the publication adviser. At St. Mary’s College in the same town, The Marian Journal is practically run by the administration to promote the image of the institution

“Threats of expulsion or suspension as well as outright censorship are the rule in other papers. Student editors of St. Paul College in Quezon City have decried administration censorship in their paper, The Paulinian. At the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila, editors and staff of The Lance were recently disqualified due to ‘failure to meet grade requirements.’ A similar scenario obtains at the Abra Valley Colleges: staff writers of The Torch are threatened by the administration regarding their grades. Aside from this, every issue of The Torch must pass through the adviser and the approval board where the college president sits as a member.

According to the Bulatlat.com report, all these issues were discussed and raised years ago during the 61st National Student Press Convention of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) held in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

RESURGENCE OF CENSORSHIP?

Today, talk of ‘censorship’ is still rife among college and university editors and staff of campus papers, stretching from subtle imposition of restrictions to threats ranging from the pullout of funds to legal cases filed against campus journalists

Years back, one of my nephews, an editor of a school publication, was once threatened with expulsion should he refuse to “kill” the article that put the university “in a bad light”.

A recent interview I had with a campus editor-in-chief revealed how the school administration took command of the campus newsroom in times when controversial issues associated with the school administration were being written and published

“There was a point in time,” the student editor said, “when the school administration chose to sit as ‘editor’ of the paper, choosing the ‘appropriate headline,’ or dictating the course of a story. At other times, the administration issued a memo that explicitly instructed the staff not to publish the death of a student. They often use ‘marketing problems’ as a reason for publishing only ‘good stories.’

This much I can say: on the point of funding, no school has the right to censor these campus publications. The money comes from students’ fees, to say little of  the work that goes with each publication of the magazine or newspaper. This alone automatically gives the student body proprietorship over the campus publications.

On the issue of being “too critical,” the publication advisers can train each editor on how to better approach the stories or opinion pieces based on actual evidence

However, in the same breath, let me say that journalistic ‘gatekeeping’ checks only for any and all misreading of available evidence, or the lack of context and understanding of current issues. Gatekeeping should not, in any manner or form, be used as an excuse for censorship.

Campus papers, for all that they’re criticized for their treatment of the news, have served their communities over and above their calling. No national newspaper could get into the meat of things domestically, no matter how hard it tries.

Besides, this is the voice of the young, and I daresay the voice of the future republic speaking today. There can be no refining of that voice, no smoothing of the rough edges if it were to bravely deal with what lies ahead.

These young journalists have a historical role to play. They must have enough elbowroom in this present set-up to speak and exercise their minds, to see things as they are, and not as the fairy tales we foolish adults wish they were. Educational institutions should know this more than anyone.

If human expression secures our need to stay alive, then any attack, any suppression, any and all acts of censorship on the young–or any individual for that matter–is not simply an assault on our freedom of expression.

It is an assault on our right to life, humanity’s right to surviveand our moral responsibility to keep that humanity a thinking, speaking humanity.

The only answer to censorship is resistance. G

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