Mass Com 422: ETHICS OF THE MASS MEDIA

Reading No. 1


PART I:  THE CONSTITUTION AND THE MASS MEDIA

CHAPTER I

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OF THE PRESS

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

Spanish Regime

Before the twentieth century, freedom of the press as understood in modern democratic nations was unknown in the Philippines.  The government under Spain was a despotism and had complete power to prohibit and penalize criticism of the prevailing institutions and policies.  Censorship was legitimate.  Much of the exercise of this power was designed to keep the faith of the people pure.  At the time, marriage between the State and the Church was still intact and so civil power was available for suppressing ideas that challenged dogma in all departments of social life.  Among the functions of the parish priest was the far-reaching one of sharing with the civil authorities control over literary expressions of the natives.  He was the censor of plays, comedies and dramas in the language of the country, deciding whether they were against the public peace or morals.
 

The Propaganda Movement

Towards the close of the nineteenth century, enough liberal ideas had filtered into the country to start a ferment. Quite a number of the rising ilustrado or intelligentsia class had caught up with the enlightenment of Europe and had begun to note that the conditions in the country were bad.  Before long, the spirit of reform was in the air.  But it was seen quickly that any agitation for reform was bound to be stifled unless, among other liberties, the press was free. If a movement for social betterment were to be at all successful, the great mass of people had to be aroused out of their unenviable plight and this could not be done if there was no effective freedom to discuss social evils in print.

It was then, undestandably, one of the most recurrent demands of the propagandists that the press in the Islands should be set free.  Aside from pleading for the liberties of conscience and association, Lopez-Jaena asked for the liberty of the press.  Rizal insisted on the same right and thought it vital to the permanence and genuineness of reform in the country. The “Hong Kong junta” listed government control over publications as among the specific grievances of Filipinos against Spain.

The answer of the colonial government to this call for a free press was a policy of greater repression.  Most of the works of the propagandists were banned from entering the Islands.  The novels of Rizal were proscribed; their importation and circulation were by official decree made a criminal offense.  Reformist writings were read under the threat of imprisonment or exile.

The severity of the reaction against the move for reforms made the Filipinos despair of social change through peaceful means.  It fostered the growth of a revolutionary temper.  Separatist aims began to be cherished.  Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan on the dream of a Filipino nation independent of Spain and it did not take long for this revolutionary society to gain many adherents.  Its early discovery precipitated the Philippine Revolution – one of the gallant fights of the Filipino people in their search for freedom.
 

The Revolution

Among the chief causes of the Revolution was the denial of civil rights, among them the freedom of the press. Accordingly, the revolutionary leaders exerted their utmost care to assure the existence of this liberty. It was recognized in various organic documents of the time.  The Constitution of Biak-na-Bato contained a guarantee of a free press.  So did the Malolos Constitution.  Mabini emphasized it in his constitutional program of government as vital to government stability and popular welfare.  One of the conditions on which the Filipino leaders accepted the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was the promise of emancipating the press from government and ecclesiastical censorship.

 This vigilant concern of the revolutionists for a free press gave real liberty to newspapers in areas under their control.  Save for one or two exceptions, there was no censorship of publications.  In fact, the government established an official organ and asked the people to contribute articles to it. It also encouraged the publication of private newspapers as means of improving the political education of the people.
 

American Regime

 The coming of the Americans with their superior firepower and their new appetite for conquest put an end to the First Philippine Republic and its early experiment with civil liberty.  There was hope, however, that the American government would preserve to the Filipinos a large measure of freedom. President McKinley in the last days of the nineteenth century assured the Filipino people that “it is their liberty and not our power, that we seek to enhance.”  Some months later, he repeated this promise in a message to the U.S. Congress.  It was on these declarations of the American president that Aguinaldo, almost certain of defeat, pinned his hopes that the newly won rights of his people would be wholly lost.  Mabini, though, was skeptical whether a people could be free without political independence.  He emphasized the natural desire for liberty as the basis of the fierce resistance of the Filipinos to American conquest.  When defeat became certain, he was willing to concede that civil liberty under American flag was possible but that guarantees through a definite act of the U.S Congress would be necessary.

 The establishment of civil government augured well for the various freedoms, including that of the press.  Previous to that, publications were under the censorship of the military and it was felt to be too strict.  Especially cheering were the instructions of President McKinley to the Second Philippine Commission.  It contained a guarantee that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or of the right of the people to assembly peaceably and petition the government for redress of grievances.  William H. Taft, in his inaugural address as the first civil governor, also recognized the “sacred obligation… to protect civil and religious freedom.”  Such assurance led the Asociacion de Paz, a group of prominent Filipinos, to work for the passage of a law in the U.S. Congress making all prohibitive provisions of the U.S. Constitution effective in the Philippines.

 Events proved that the optimism of the Filipinos went too far.  The intense guerilla warfare conducted by insurgents still in the field evoked, and to a great extent justified, stern repressive measures.  In less than five months after the inauguration of the civil regime, the Second Philippine Commission severely restricted the freedom of the press, among others.  It passed a law providing in part that whosoever should plead by word of mouth, by means of printed matter or similar methods, the cause of Philippine Independence or separation from the United States, would be subject to stiff penalties.
 

Early Guarantees

However, it was not long after that the freedom of the press became established as a legal right of Filipinos.  The Philippine Bill of 1902 made provisions for this liberty, and thereafter, it was a dominant feature in various organic acts as a limitation to governmental power.  The Jones Law explicitly forbade the government from passing any law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people to peaceably assembly and petition the government for redress of grievances.

The free press thus assured became one of the most powerful instruments of the Filipinos in their move for political independence from the United States.  When victory came, its continued liberty was sought to be insured, ironically enough, by the sovereignty it helped end.  The Philippine Independence Act imposed the requirement, among others, that the proposed Constitution of the Philippines should contain a bill of rights.  The liberty of the press was one of the more important guarantees to which it referred.
 

The Philippine Constitution

During the deliberation in the Constitutional Convention, there was a move to embody in the Constitution definite limitations to press freedom.  The powerful Subcommittee of Seven included in their draft public order and good morals as social ends justifying restriction on publications.  Moreover, they sought to authorize suppression of publications by final court orders.  But stiff opposition checked these proposals, and as things came out, the provision in the Jones Law on the freedom of the press was reproduced in the draft and finally approved.

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech and of the press (Art. III, Sec. 1 (8)x]


RATIONALE OF CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION

In general

The accepted theory is that freedom of expression is essential to the discovery as well as propagation of truth.  Insofar as such truth relates to matters of public concern, its discovery and dissemination is vital not only to good government but also to social reform and the growth of learning in the sciences and in the arts. Free speech and a free press are therefore social necessities, upon which we rest part of our hopes for individual achievement or serf-realization as well as for social progress and advancement.

The particular benefits that are thought to flow from the freedom of expression include the following:

1. It affords the citizen an opportunity to take part in the government of public affairs, by pointing out his wants, his needs and his approval or disapproval of specific acts or policies.
2. It facilitates public opinion which keeps the government alive to its responsibilities and alert in the discharge of its duties.
3. It makes possible the expression and spread of news ideas, which may become the basis for social reforms, or for the advancement in science and the arts.
4. It has an overall integrative effect by facilitating compromises or accommodations between the majority and the minorities in our society.
 

Instrument of popular sovereignty

Our Constitution declares that (1) sovereignty resides in the people and (2) that all government authority emanates from them.  Such sovereign power is principally exerted in two forms: through elections and through public opinion.   Through the spreading of information and opinion bearing on public issues, the citizen informs his government of his needs and wants, of his approval and of his displeasure.  To the extent that the government responds, as it must, to public opinion, to that extent the government is subject to popular control. Hence, the scope of free expression for the citizen is the true measure of democracy.
 

Essential to wise government

Freedom of expression affords the nation and its policy workers a greater range of effective choices or alternatives on public issues than would otherwise be possible, thus enhancing the adoption of intelligent decisions on public questions.  Generally, every question of policy of some importance would affect the interests of various groups.  Some would be against the measure, others would be in favor, depending on how their interests are affected.  A public debate would, therefore, be fairly certain, whether in Congress, in the newspapers, or in some other forum. In the course of the debate, considerations not contemplated by the policy makers may emerge.  Certain advantages or disadvantages may loom larger than before.  New approaches may be suggested, or alternatives proposed, or modifications advanced.  Whatever these are, they may dictate a revision of the original courses of action contemplated.
 

Essential to knowledge and progress

Freedom of expression provides the gifted among the citizenry the essential conditions for the exercise or their creative gifts, whether in science, in learning or in the arts.  Thus, the individual citizen is accorded the opportunity for maximum self-fulfillment, with resultant benefits to society.  No only is knowledge advanced, or wisdom gained, but a material increase results in the levels of decency and civilized feeling.
 

Essential to national unity

Freedom of expression gives the minorities an opportunity to exert their influence on policy and execution of government decisions, thus fostering compromise and accommodation on the part of the majority.  The fact that their interests are taken into account facilitated acquiescence, even acceptance of the decisions of the majority.
 

The press as educator and fiscalizer

Much has been written on the philosophical basis of press freedom as part of the larger right of free discussion and expression.  Its practical importance, though, is more easily grasped. It is the chief source of information on current affairs.  It is the most pervasive and perhaps most powerful vehicle of opinion on public questions.  It is the instrument by which citizens keep their government informed of their needs, their aspirations and their grievances.  It is the sharpest weapon in the fight to keep government responsible and efficient.  Without a vigilant press, the mistakes of every administration would go uncorrected and its abuses unexposed.

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