Letters to the Editor

Free, but also responsible

The Philippine Star

A lot of differing voices have been raised over the suspension of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) – first by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) of two of its programs for two weeks, then by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) of the whole network for 30 days.

The MTRCB, based on “complaints received by the board” and “upon careful review and consideration of recent events,” found that the two shows “may have violated the established guidelines and standards set by PD 1986…governing broadcasting content.” One show aired death threats and profane language, while the other aired an unverified report which was later proven to be false and for which the hosts admitted they did not check its veracity and apologized.

The NTC, for its part, suspended the radio and TV channels of SMNI for supposedly breaking the terms of its franchise, RA 11422, including airing unverified, false claims, including “red-tagging” media and opposition figures without proof; changing its corporate structure without congressional approval, among others.

Some quarters cry censorship and persecution, invoking press freedom and freedom of expression. Others cite “weaponizing the law,” recalling the case of the shuttering of ABS-CBN and some publications. Others say it’s just payback time, with the Duterte side now getting a taste of its own medicine. SMNI is closely affiliated with the former president; in fact, he was guest on the show where the death threat and profanities were aired.

Both those condemning the sanctions and those cheering them have valid points. While those freedoms – of the press and of expression – are sacred, there must be responsibility and accountability, especially in this age of fake news and trolls manipulating information. All media – print, broadcast and especially social media – must be free, but must also be responsible. Those freedoms, as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said, are not blanket justifications for hate speech, vilification and threats and, may I add, knowingly dishing out false information/fake news.

“Even as SMNI and its supporters cry press freedom and freedom of expression now, may they also reflect on how they cheered on and abetted similar moves when these tactics were being used against journalists and newsrooms,” NUJP added. — Fil San Vicente Jr., Mandaluyong City

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