The DOT Accreditation System: A Form of Prior Restraint

THE DEPARTMENT of Tourism (DOT), through its recently issued Media Accreditation Guidelines for the coverage of Boracay once it is closed to tourists, is in effect putting in place a system of selecting which media can report on Boracay.  Such a system can allow access only to journalists and media organizations that government approves of. It serves to quiet journalistic inquiry, a mechanism to silence a critical press.

This is evident in its requiring three to five days for “vetting and processing” accreditation applications. An application for accreditation can obviously be denied, for reasons the Guidelines do not specify, but which are more than likely to be focused on whether the president or his officials have expressed dislike or worse about the applicant media organization or journalist.

The accreditation system is in short designed to assure “positive” coverage of what will be transpiring in Boracay and how its rehabilitation will proceed.

A second layer of “vetting” by “security officers” can be imposed even on journalists with approved applications. Journalists, their movements, perhaps, even the questions they ask or the company they keep are all likely to be subject to surveillance, the results of which can serve as grounds for continued approval or withdrawal of accreditation.

The DOT Media Accreditation Guidelines are meant to control who can cover the Boracay issue and how it is covered. This kind of practice is completely alien to a press freedom regime and are in clear violation of Article III, Section 4 of the Constitution. They are part of the drift towards the making of a police state. CMFR calls on all journalists, their organizations, civil society and citizens to understand the significance of the DOT guidelines, to expose the power this holds to limit press access and coverage, to prevent press investigation of what is going on in Boracay.

The accreditation process flags the possibility that government may not be entirely straightforward about what it intends to do with this global tourist destination. It has added to the obvious lack of planning, the absence of a master plan and consultative process, the sudden announcement of the dates of closure — conditions that raise reasonable doubts about the real purpose of Boracay’s closure.

This should concern not just the media, but all who believe that a free press is part of our democracy. Filipinos should resist these motions for their lack of transparency and to denounce this latest assault on press freedom by the Duterte regime.