OP to SC: Enforcing media accreditation rules does not curtail, violate press freedom

Published September 26, 2019, 5:14 PM

by CJ Juntereal

By Rey Panaligan

The Office of the President (OP) has told the Supreme Court (SC) “the mere act of the government in enforcing its accreditation rules  does not, in any way, affect or trample upon the constitutional freedom of the press.“

Members of College Editors Guild of the Philippines protest on press freedom at Mendiola, Manila on Wednesday after SEC ordered the closure of Rappler . (JANSEN ROMERO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Members of College Editors Guild of the Philippines protest on press freedom at Mendiola, Manila.

In its comment filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on the petition lodged by Rappler, Inc., an online news outfit, and its staff members, the OP said:

“This constitutional right does not certainly include the right to demand a special press pass, special accreditation, or special spot at any news conference or press briefing.

“The government recognizes the role of free press in our democracy; but our people deserve news reports from legitimate media organizations that comply with rules on accreditation, respect the decisions of tribunals and obey the Constitution and our laws.”

Rappler and its staff members Patricia Marie I. Ranada, Mara Alyssabel D. Cepeda, Raymon G. Dullana, Franklin Y. Cimatu, Mauricio E. Victa, Camille Kristina S. Elemia, Ralf Martin S. Rivas, and Baltazar Espinosa Lagsa challenged before the SC the 2018 ban that barred them and the news outfit from covering any event President Duterte attends.

Their petition claimed that the ban “curtails the constitutional right of the press to cover, report, and access newsworthy public events.”

It also alleged that the ban violates due process and equal protection and “is tantamount to prior restraint which is prohibited by the Constitution.”

It sought from the SC the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) but the plea was, in effect, denied with the issuance of a resolution merely requiring comment on the part of the respondents, one of them the OP.

In its comment, the OP said that before the renewal of Ranada’s media accreditation that expired in December 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s certificate of incorporation on Jan. 11, 2018 for violating the foreign equity restriction for mass media under the Constitution.

The comment stated that with the SEC’s ruling, the International Press Center (IPC) denied Ranada’s application for renewal of accreditation. Consequently, the Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) denied Ranada’s physical access in all events attended by the President, it said.

It pointed out that under the IPC and MARO accreditation rules, a legitimate media entity must be accredited in order to cover the President.

It stressed that even the by-laws of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) require, among others, that to be a member of the MPC, the news outfit must be duly-recognized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) as a bona fide media organization, duly-accredited by the IPC and duly-registered at the SEC.

“Here, Rappler simply failed to meet these accreditation requirements, hence, the non-renewal of its (or Ranada’s) accreditation to cover Malacañang,” it said.

But the comment stated that “since the expiration of its accreditation in December 2017 and its eventual non-renewal, Rappler continues to have access to press releases and media briefers from PCOO and re-broadcasts presidential events thru RTVM.”

It said that “its (Rappler’s) reporters are also free to ask questions, through SMS, during media briefings with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and publish articles regarding the President and all events attended by him.

“Notwithstanding its non-renewal of accreditation, Rappler has published and continues to publish numerous stories on current events involving the President within and outside of Malacañang,” it added.

The OP comment lamented that “Rappler attempted to portray this case in their news reports as an alarming threat to press freedom.”

“However, the petition miserably failed to present any genuine issue on the alleged abridgment of free press,” it said.