Foreign Media and the Presidential Coverage
ON FEBRUARY 20, when Rappler reporter Pia Ranada was barred from Malacañang Palace, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also announced that foreign reporters are not allowed “as a matter of course, access on a regular . . . unimpeded access to the Palace.” This, he clarified was not a restriction to press freedom (“Rappler barred from covering Malacañang events“).
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) was quick to correct Harry Roque, in a statement issued on February 21: “FOCAP considers this a blatant attack on freedom of the press, a right guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations.” (See Box)
Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the freedom of expression and of opinion, which “includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Refusing a news organization access to the President, the highest policy-making official in the country, and in this centralized system of government one of, if not the main source of power, interferes with the right to seek, receive and impart information, as it limits the available channels of information.
In dissing Rappler and justifying the ban, Roque blamed the media organization for spreading fake news (“Philippine leaser bans news sure from covering his events over fake news“) contradicting his earlier statement that fake news was needed in a marketplace of ideas (“Fake news part of free marketplace of ideas — Roque“).
FOCAP also pointed out that contrary to Roque’s claims, its members have access to Malacañang and are regularly invited to cover news events, as has been the practice since 1986 (“Focap members can cover Duterte’s daily activities“).
In modifying this position, Roque was caught in a contradiction. When he reiterated the ban against Rappler and Ranada, he added that, if Rappler it wanted to cover Malacañang, Rappler could apply for accreditation as a member of FOCAP, implying that FOCAP has regular access to media events in Malacanang.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines expresses grave concern over the ban imposed by the Office of the President on Rappler journalists.
FOCAP considers this as a blatant attack on freedom of the press, a right guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations.
The restriction, which came after Rappler reported about a senior presidential aide dragged into a navy frigate deal, is disturbing. FOCAP underscores the critical role of the press in a functioning and vibrant democracy.
FOCAP condemns threats of physical harm to journalists, specially coming from state forces whose mandate is to protect civilians.
FOCAP takes exception to the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that Rappler may instead apply for FOCAP membership to be able to cover the President.
FOCAP, a group of journalists working for foreign news agencies covering significant political and socioeconomic developments in the Philippines, is an accredited organization to cover the President’s official activities.
The International Press Center, a unit under the Presidential Communications Operations Office, issues accreditation identification (ID) cards every year. This has been the practice since 1986 when dictator Ferdinand Marcos was removed from power.
FOCAP journalists are therefore accredited to cover the president’s official day-to-day activities, like the members of the Malacañang Press Corps.
By the FOCAP BOARD