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Dissecting The Philippine Mass Media Today Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by VOICEMASTER, Philippines Oct 4, 2003
Citizen Journalism   Short Stories
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Philippine mass media today is a hybrid of Libertarian and Authoritarian stock, inheriting incongruous qualities that render it complicated and oftentimes confusing. Philippine media prides itself as the "freest in Asia"; the constitution-backed protection of press freedom gives it a characteristic libertarian flavor. However, contrary to Libertarian principles, this press freedom is regulated to some extent by the government. This is where its Authoritarian personality sets in.

It is widely accepted that Libertarian governments have some degree of control over their mass media. But such controls, in the form of laws and other such policies, are formulated with the thrusts on responsibility and over-all public welfare, and not in order to cow the so-called "Fourth Estate." This Libertarian definition is twisted by Authoritarian technocrats of the Martial Law period in the person of then Information Minister Francisco S. Tatad, by saying:

The liberty of the press never has been absolute. It has always yielded to higher considerations. It has always balanced against other community interests such as the security of the State, the right and duty of the State to provide for the well-being of its citizens, the maintenance of decency and public order, the protection of reputation and the need for fair trial proceedings, among others. ("The Right to Know," The Times Journal, August 26, 1978).

His explication on the inherent need for government regulation of the media in a Parliamentary Democracy (the Philippines assumed a Parliamentary form of government during Martial Law), is one of the many paradoxes in a society wielding the democratic Bill of Rights on one hand and authoritarian State supremacy on the other. In short, the convoluted definition of control (causing it to take on an authoritarian tone) over the media is, in essence, political propaganda. It is to be noted that in Libertarian theory, the power lies ultimately on the people and the state is a mere venue on which "man can develop his potentialities and enjoy a maximum of happiness" (Maslog, 1989). To the Authoritarian theorist, whose contentions run parallel to the martial law technocrats', "the state is the 'ethical spirit? Will? Mind? The state, being and end in itself, is provided with the maximum of rights over against the individual citizens, whose highest duty is to be members of the state" (George Hegel quoted by Maslog, 1989).

This clash of principles between the government and the media fuels their unebbing animosity for each other. The state contends that without restrictions, media have the ability to threaten the truthful dissemination of information and that this irresponsibility, coupled with unrestricted liberty, will inevitably threaten the State's security. The media rebute that when government institutionalizes controls over them, it has the capacity to manipulate these regulations to cow and threaten them; that the government will exploit every creative means it can to muzzle the Fourth Estate.

With these overlapping yet contradictory qualities of the Philippine Media, it is inevitable that many will question the nature of these controls. Are these regulations instituted merely as safeguards to the Bill of Rights or are they an attempt at authoritarian regulation which goal is to attain conformity from the otherwise predominantly leftist press? Simply, are these controls formulated ultimately to cow the Fourth Estate? Is this institution of government restriction a precursor to the return of authoritarian control over the media?
This paper assesses the complicated and confusing tapestry that is Philippine Mass Media, delving into and dissecting its two personalities-Libertarian and Authoritarian-and how they are manifested within the system. The discussion will be divided into two subtitles: "Political Role" and "Social Role." In the process, this author necessarily examines the political and social landscapes that are the backdrop of the ironies in Philippine Media.

Assessing Philippine Mass Media
Media has a tripartite role in society: Political, Economic and Social. Its political role includes its duty as an information disseminator, its responsibility in creating and reflecting public opinion and its function as watchdog on government.

Political Role
Philippine Media assumes a libertarian stance in its role of disseminating information. Foreign news, information and entertainment programs have a rather unregulated entry into the mainstream of Philippine Media. Likewise, editorials harsh on the government and other such unflattering and sensitive articles are given the right to publication or airtime. However, this seemingly untrammeled liberty exists with a dark speck. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Enrique Fernando, quoted by Paredes (1986), "the greatest threat to press freedom is national security." This, paired with the afore-quoted words of Francisco Tatad, undeniably glisten with an authoritarian sheen as they give the impression that the State's security precedes individual liberty. To this author, this paints an incongruous image of a society bearing two aeges-authoritarian State supremacy on one hand and libertarian Bill of Rights on the other. The state can choose only one priority and strive to protect it.

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