Media should not—ever—be regulated by government. That would defeat the democratic principle of a free and independent press, one of the best benchmarks for measuring the strength of a nation and its democracy.
All efforts to regulate the media will be met with a strong, monosyllabic response by members of the working press: “No.”
It was in the aftermath of a meme about a supposed magna carta for media workers circulated in social media that the Graphic went to interview Press Undersecretary Joel Maguiza Sy Egco, the head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director at his office in Malacanang.
The meme was triggered by a report in the July 20, 2018 edition of the SunStar Baguio quoted Egco in a report that said a magna carta for media workers was being planned by Egco’s office. The report was written based on an informal conversation between Egco and several journalists during the lunch break of the PTFoMS Seminar on the implementation of the Operational Guidelines of Administrative Order 1.
The Graphic contacted SunStar Baguio, emailing queries on the matter to the provincial daily. As of press time, the Sunstar Baguio has not responded to the emailed questions.
Egco said the statements quoted in the report by Jonathan Llanes were made on the sidelines of conference between journalists, local and national government officials and members of law enforcement agencies in Region I, Region II and the Cordillera Administrative Region.
According to the report in question: “A Magna Carta for media workers is being planned by the Presidential Task Force for Media Security (PTFMS) to uplift the living conditions of journalists in the country.” It also read: “PTFoMS Undersecretary Joel Egco said the measure seeks to professionalize journalism through qualifying and classifying exams.”
He was quoted in same report as saying: “If you want to become a media personality, you will have to take an exam every six months to assess your qualification which would set either a managerial position or a corresponding salary level or grade equivalent to that of government.”
The Press Undersecretary furnished the Graphic with a copy of the discussion he had with Llanes, as recorded by Eliza Agtoo of the Philippines News Agency.
In that recording, Egco had also said: “Ayaw ko ng regulation, mediaman din ako eh (I am also a mediaman, I do not want regulation).”
During that discussion, one of the reporters on the record noted that low salaries paid to media practitioners may make them susceptible to “corruption” and “politics,” which may endanger themselves.
More from the PNA recording: “Dati may Magna Carta for Journalists, tinurn-down natin. Why? Walang nakasaad kung magkano ang sweldo. Nire-regulate [ang industriya], ayaw ko din yun (Before there was a Magna Carta for journalists which we turned down because it did not mention the salaries. Regulating, I don’t want tha, either).”
He also said this on the PNA recording: “Hindi mo pwedeng sabihin kung sino lang mag-practice, accredit or not accredit. (You cannot dictate who can practice, accredit or not accredit.) That’s wrong!”
During his interview with the Graphic, Egco said this was not the case. He said it was a reporter’s question that prompted his statements.: “We were having lunch when [Llanes] asked me questions about how (PTFoMS) can help with the financial and economic security of media workers.”
“Let me be very clear. I was vehemently opposed to the regulation of media and media workers when I was president of the National Press Club. I am still vehemently opposed to it now. The proposed Magna Carta for Journalists that former Senator Jinggoy Estrada had filed in the Upper Chamber is still unacceptable to me now. I will never accept that.”
Egco also explained that he “discussed ideas for making it possible to provide media workers with better financial security, such as bringing together a council composed of the country’s press groups like the National Union of Journalists (NUJP), the NPC, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and, maybe even the Philippine Center for Investigative Reporting (PCIJ) to determine and set industry standards—like a matrix of skills needed to do the job and how to evaluate and rate media workers for use as a basis for how much their salaries will be and what jobs they can do in a newsroom, kung field reporters, editors, copy-desk and so on.”
Llanes’ report in the SunStar drew reactions across social media, spurring NUJP to issue a statement on the matter: “This is, in fact, not the first time the idea of regulating, even licensing, journalists has been proposed. And the NUJP, along with other media and free expression advocates, has consistently opposed and thwarted all such attempts.”
While the NUJP does not question Egco, whom the group referred to as “a former colleague,” they said the proposal “to set salary grades depending on ‘competency,’ is fraught with danger, not least of all allowing government to determine who can or cannot be a journalist, which is totally anathema to a profession that can thrive only in independence.”
NUJP said “journalism is an extension of freedom of expression and serves the people’s sacrosanct right to the information they need to make decisions about their individual and collective lives.” Because of this, the reported magna carta “would also infringe on the rights of media owners and managers to determine who to employ.”
Responding to a direct question from the Graphic, Egco said “there is no such document as a magna carta for media workers yet. That is an idea I shared, not a project my office is undertaking.”
“I am, and always will be, against regulating the media,” Egco said. However, the idea of working to make the journalism industry stronger has merit, and we now have a discussion on the matter.”
“If we are going to embark on this, for which I have absolutely no idea of the how of it,” Egco added, “I would want the country’s private sector media organizations like NUJP, CMFR, etc., to take the lead—to come together into a council that will determine industry standards, including compensation and benefits standards for media workers. If there will be exams, there will be no passing or failing. The exams would be to determine what skills a media worker has and at what levels—which can serve as a benchmark for their salary rates, as well as determine where they best fit in their news organizations. If there will be exams and evaluations, these will be formulated and approved by members of the council, not by my office or the Office of the Press Secretary. There will be no accreditation or regulation by government.”
What this storm in a teacup has opened is a matter that the media industry and the owners of media agencies should take a good look at: How to provide better wages and good benefits for their workers. Government should definitely not interfere.