President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration in Mindanao has been in place for almost a month now. The Senate and the House of Representatives, which are both dominated by administration allies, endorsed the martial law declaration even without convening a joint session.
Opponents of the proclamation expectedly raised the matter before the Supreme Court. At one point during the oral arguments from June 13 to 15, the issue of press freedom was discussed.
General Order #1, which outlines President Rodrigo Duterte’s guidelines for the implementation of the martial law, states under Section 6: Role of Other Government Agencies and the Media: “The role of the media is vital in ensuring the timely dissemination of true and correct information to the public. Media practitioners are therefore requested to exercise prudence in the performance of their duties so as not to compromise the security and safety of the Anmed Forces and law enforcement personnel, and enable them to effectively discharge their duties and functions under this Order.” (emphasis added-TFS)
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio noted that the provision is tantamount to putting a prior restraint on the media. “I saw in the general order that they are threatening media. I think that will not help,” he said. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen echoed this, saying that the vague wording of this particular guideline can be seen as “trying to control the media.”
The absence of specific guidelines from the government on how the media should operate during the martial law is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, media outlets already observe two levels of self-regulatory mechanisms: the first one is observed by everyone in the profession while the second one is implemented by their respective organizations.
For example, United States-based Society of Professional Journalists enjoin journalists under the “Minimize Harm” principle to “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.” The complete text of SPJ’s Code of Ethics can be found in this link.
The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas Broadcast Code of 2011 meanwhile mandates that during crime and crisis situations (Article 6, section 3), “the station shall desist from showing or reporting the strategies, plans, and tactics employed by the authorities to resolve the situation—including the positioning of forces, deployment of machine and equipment, or any other information that might jeopardize their operations or put lives in danger.”
Below are possible infractions to these:
1) Giving airtime to members of the Maute terrorist group and their allies
2) Reporting classified information about the terrorist group and strategies to defeat them
3) Reporting the exact positions of the government troops during their offensive