RH Act not covered as Health and Women’s Issue

FROM NOVEMBER to December of last year, Republic Act 10354 (or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 which was signed into law last Dec. 21) was  always in the news. However, the reports lacked in-depth coverage of the Act as a health and women’s issue.

PJR Reports (PJRR) reviewed the coverage by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star and the Manila Bulletin as well as the TV news programs TV Patrol, 24 Oras and Aksyon of the RH Bill from Nov. 26 when the House of Representatives began amending  the bill until Dec. 14, or a week before President Benigno Aquino III signed the bill into law.

Catholic Church Alone

Though the media had  many reports on the views of the Catholic Church, they  failed to report the views of other churches in the country. The newspapers did mention that other churches were  in favor of the bill, but  failed to report these churches’  reasons for supporting it.

All the newspapers  monitored published reports on the Catholic Church’s opposition to  the bill.  For example, the Inquirer’s Bishops will be watching RH vote” reported that Fr. Melvin Castro (Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life) explained his presence in the hearings as intended  to  support  those lawmakers who would vote against the bill.

Both print and television centered on the statements of  Church leaders on the bill, in the process giving the impression that  the Catholic Church was the only important sector in  society  opposed the bill.

On Nov. 30, 2012, however, 24 Oras managed to briefly air a report on  a rally by the “Partidong Manggagawa” at Mendiola, although it did not ask any of the rallyists to explain their support for the bill.

Subjects for Maternal Care

The views of the women  who would be most affected by the bill were noticeably absent in much of the coverage by print and television. During the period  monitored,  neither medium  quoted any women’s group’s views on the bill.

Health Groups

The newspapers  did supply comprehensive stories on the stand of health workers and advocates like doctors, nurses and midwives. They also provided statistics on maternal-related deaths to put the need for the bill in context.

According to an article by Philip Tubeza of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated Dec. 12, 2012, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and 22 other health groups urged the Congress  pass the RH Bill. There was also a report on a press conference at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) on the views of   100,000 doctors and nurses and  167,000 midwives.

The press conference presented a ‘manifesto’ calling for  “seven life-saving” provisions in the RH Bill, among them state protection of the individual’s freedom to decide what family planning method he or she wants to use.

But print did not get the opinions of the ordinary people, in contrast to television.

In a report of Aksyon last Dec. 3, 2012 on a forum on the RH bill, the program reported  citizens’  views  on whether voting on the bill should start or not by showing twitter screen caps on the report. Another example was a report in 24 Oras on Catholics who were  for the RH bill  who were rallying during the first day of Human Rights month. The report explained why these Catholics were  pro-RH despite the Church’s official views.

By Nicole Marie T. Abania and Mary Anne V. Ablanida