Is there A Genuine Press Freedom?

by Benjie Oliveros

Press freedom is said to be a fundamental human right and one of the foundations of democratic societies. In 2006, then UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor lamented, “The number of journalists killed in the line of duty has become a barometer for measuring press freedom.”

However, press freedom advocates also note “Wherever there is an independent media, there is bound to be friction with the Government.” (Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], May 2006). Not only that, the CPJ noted that 85 percent of the murder of journalists had been committed with impunity.

The CPJ said that most attacks on journalists come from “governments, drug lords, criminal mafias, or others with reason to silence critical, independent reporting.” So in the case of the Philippines, the “others” include local warlords and political dynasties who, in reality, are no different from drug lords and criminal mafias because they corner all legal and illegal profit-making ventures in their respective fiefdoms.

The Philippines has earned the infamy of being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, second only to Iraq, because of the Ampatuan massacre.

The CPJ deemed that the “failure of justice” is the most urgent threat facing journalists worldwide. With the developments, or lack of it, in the Ampatuan massacre case, the Philippines appears to be headed toward becoming the face of impunity in the killings of journalists.

On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day commemoration on May 3, 2014, the UN highlighted “the importance of independent, free and pluralistic media to protecting and promoting these rights.”

“Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.” (Joint Message from Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations and Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2014).

Aside from the killings of journalists, what other threats to press freedom are there in the world today? How independent are media conglomerates? Has the media been exercising its liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions of governments?

Consider this: An article published by the Economic Collapse Who owns the media: The 6 monolithic corporations that control almost everything we watch, hear and read written by Michael Snyder and published in October 4, 2010, revealed that in 1983, around 50 corporations controlled majority of the news media outfits in the US. Now, it is controlled by just six giant corporations that own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and even many websites.

The six giant media corporations are Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal. Outside these six, other media platforms are likewise controlled by a few corporations: “Clear Channel now owns over 1000 radio stations across the United States. Companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are increasingly dominating the Internet.”

“In 1983, fifty corporations dominated most of every mass medium and the biggest media merger in history was a $340 million deal. … [I]n 1987, the fifty companies had shrunk to twenty-nine. … [I]n 1990, the twenty-nine had shrunk to twenty-three. … [I]n 1997, the biggest firms numbered ten and involved the $19 billion Disney-ABC deal, at the time the biggest media merger ever. … [In 2000] AOL Time Warner’s $350 billion merged corporation [was] more than 1,000 times larger [than the biggest deal of 1983].” (Ben H. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly,Sixth Edition, Beacon Press, 2000).

“These gigantic media corporations do not exist to objectively tell the truth to the American people. Rather, the primary purpose of their existence is to make money.”

“These gigantic media corporations are not going to do anything to threaten their relationships with their biggest advertisers (such as the largest pharmaceutical companies that literally spend billions on advertising), and one way or another these gigantic media corporations are always going to express the ideological viewpoints of their owners.” (Michael Snyder, Who owns the media: The 6 monolithic corporations that control almost everything we watch, hear andread).

The same is true in the Philippines. The Lopez group owns the ABS-CBN conglomerate. The Manny Pangilinan PLDT group owns Business World Publishing Corp., Associated Broadcasting Company (TV5), Nation Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Cignal Digital TV (Cignal), and the Unitel Group. The group recently acquired majority stake in The Philippine Star.

Felipe Gozon, Gilberto Duavit, and Menardo Jimenez own the GMA 7 conglomerate and recently, Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation bought a 30 percent stake in the media conglomerate. The president and CEO of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sandy Prieto-Romualdez is married to Benjamin Philip Romualdez, president and CEO of Benguet Corporation and the president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines.

Like their US counterparts, these media conglomerates would not go against the business interests of its owners nor its biggest advertisers. One of the biggest advertisers is the government, including government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs). Other big advertisers are multinational corporations and their local partners, local and foreign businesses.

Thus, combined with the killings of journalists, the lack of access to government records, and the self-censorship of media conglomerates, could we say that there is genuine press freedom in the world and in the country today?

Michael Snyder also wrote: “That is one reason why we have seen the alternative media experience such rapid growth over the past few years. The mainstream media has been losing credibility at a staggering rate, and Americans are starting to look elsewhere for the truth about what is really going on.”

In the Philippines, alternative media groups gathered together last October 9-10 and formed the first ever nationwide network of alternative media groups in the country, Altermidya or the People’s Alternative Media Network. (

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