Why I Support A Magna Carta For Journalists

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – Detained Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has a recurring pending bill titled Magna Carta for Journalists (Senate Bill No. 380), which urges Philippine Congress to make it a State policy for journalists to have “security of tenure, human conditions of work and a living wage” but it never got past the committee stage.

While the bill is well intentioned, the Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility finds it wanting of rights and privileges that envisage the original Great Charter or the Bill of Rights.

For me, for the bill to be viable, the onus of providing the “security of tenure” is on the employers or media owners, not on the lowly employees or journalists who are at the receiving end as victims of the hazard of the trade.

That is why if media employers were given some form of tax breaks by the government, these tax breaks should be withdrawn if they are not providing the “minimum wage” to media workers that is observed in the media industry.

It is a common knowledge that well-known “talking heads” or “news readers” in the television and radio industries, for instance, command the top salaries. Why can’t television owners start to peg the distribution of the salaries gradually from top to bottom without providing a big separation of salaries in the middle?

After all, majority of the hard-working reporters are in the front lines, who bear the brunt of casualties? I remember during the super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) nearly a dozen of reporters were killed in Ground Zero while the top-banana anchors were safely ensconced in their air-conditioned peacock thrones, far-away from danger and yet were taking the cake of the salaries and were sharing the glories of the lowly reporters.

INVERTED EMBUDO OR FUNNEL

And the salary distribution in the form of an inverted embudo or funnel also goes all the way down in the print industry, although in a much smaller scale. And like in print, it is most of the field reporters, who fall prey as victims of vengeful corrupt politicians because of their small incomes, and none of the top editors, except for small-town mom-and-pop rural community publishers.

I will agree with Estrada’s bill providing for “professional exams annually” in order for reporters and anchors to be granted press accreditation by a “professional quasi-government and private industry” regulators, provided the exam focuses on their knowledge of the 1886 Berne Convention that has been affirmed by 117 countries, including the Philippines and the United States, affiliated with the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) convention in 1994.

You may ask me why test “annually”? Because Copyright laws are dynamic and various lower courts are delivering differing, varied interpretations.

If journalists became familiar with the nebulous rules of the international Copyright conventions, they can police themselves, for instance, by knowing the intricacies of “fair use” principles, which have been fairly abused thanks to the Internet.

Can journalists really tell the four factors to consider before invoking “fair use” to go around the International Copyright law without exposing their media employers to expensive lawsuits?

For the uninitiated, the fair use doctrine permits the unauthorized use of copyrighted material if it is used for certain “transformative” purposes such as criticism, commentary, or parody.

FAIR USE AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES

According to Stim, Richard. Patent, Copyright & Trademark. Berkeley, Ca.: NOLO, 2014, the Copyright Act permits any person to make “fair use” of a published or unpublished copyrighted work – including the making of unauthorized copies – in these contexts:

—  in connection with criticism of or comment on the work;

—  in the course of news reporting;

—  for teaching purposes; or

—  as part of scholarship or research activity.

Although, “fair use” is an affirmative defense to a claim of copyright infringement even if an infringement occurred, there is no liability because the infringing activity was excusable as a fair use of the original work.

Whether or not a particular instance of copying without permission qualifies as a fair use is decided on a case-by-case basis and depends on four basic factors that a journalist worth his salt should master to save his or his employer’s skins.

Most journalists, including top editors, think citing the source in his news story without seeking permission from the original author is “fair use.” It’s not so. Asking permission is one thing, getting the permission is another. Sometimes, a source may or may not demand payment to let a journalist quote his “transformative” information, so says Copyright Law.

A friend of mine, a part-time photojournalist or citizen journalist, if you may, because of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, innocently forwarded a breaking news photo he took to another. The recipient of the photo posted it on his Facebook page. The photo ended up in the Internet and on hardcopy page of a newsmagazine. The newsmagazine editor, who did not realize the impact of picking up the photo without seeking permission of the photographer, abruptly resigned after being confronted with a prospective copyright lawsuit.

If the case filed by veteran reporter Edmund Silvestre of the weekly Filipino Reporter in New York City against his employer succeeds, it will be a feather in the cap for struggling journalists who thrive on slave-wage pays. This case will be closely watched by several dozens of Filipino American mom-and-pop publishers as harbinger of salaries that they will have to pay if they want to hire a full-time journalist.

Silvestre is demanding an annual salary of $45,780.80 per his contract with the late publisher-editor Bert Pelayo, former Manila Times staff member, who might have agreed to a make-believe or real contract. But then, it did not even top the salary of late Eddie Monteclaro, also of Manila Times and former president of the Philippine National Press Club, who told me in 1986 (nearly 30 years ago), he was making $70,000 a year as deskman of Chicago Sun-Times.

I hope someday, the dream of Senator Estrada to extend “security of tenure, human conditions of work and a living wage” to lowly reporters will still become a reality if salaries of reporters from both sides of the Pacific would be raised to the level of $70,000 a year! (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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