Arrest of Journalists Covering Peninsula Standoff: An Unprecedented Outrage

Nov. 30, 2007

Statement of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility on the Arrest of Members of the Media Covering the Peninsula Hotel Incident

Never in the turbulent recent history of the Philippines has any government, including that of Ferdinand Marcos, ever taken into custody members of the media who were on the scene to do their jobs.

But the arrest of the media people who were covering the take-over of the Peninsula Hotel by Senator Antonio Trillanes’ Magdalo group is not only unprecedented. It is also an outrage, and a telling indication of the authoritarian depths into which the Arroyo regime has fallen in its obsession with political dominance. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility condemns this latest attack on the Philippine press as an assault not only on its Constitutionally-protected freedom, but also on democracy itself.

The arrests took place when the crisis was over, and Trillanes and company were already in police custody. The arrests can only be interpreted as one more attempt, together with libel suits and other harassments, to intimidate the Philippine press into either minimal or less aggressive reporting of political events. Media practitioners will remember this incident well, and some are likely to be affected enough to soften future coverage.

The Defense Secretary’s excuse that the police had to verify the identities of the media people covering the Peninsula Hotel crisis because there could be Magdalo members and sympathizers among them is totally unacceptable. Their identities were verifiable on-site, with some them being TV anchors well-known to millions of television viewers.

That members of the media, among them technical personnel and camerapersons as well as radio broadcasters and TV anchors, were being arrested at the very moment that Mrs. Arroyo was on the air describing her commitment to democracy was especially ironic. But it was also typical of the Arroyo regime’s rhetorical and contrived adherence to democracy and the rule of law.

The regime’s continuing assault on press freedom, free expression and freedom of assembly, of which this incident is only the latest, deserves condemnation. CMFR calls on all media, free expression and journalists’ groups in this country as well as abroad to denounce this atrocity as a willful act to inflict collateral damage on the Philippine press for doing its mandated responsibility of providing the sovereign public the information it needs.

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