Authorities have no business compelling journalists to disclose information

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is extremely disturbed by the summons sent by the Zamboanga City Prosecutor’s Office to at least three journalists asking them to provide information of their meetings with Moro National Liberation Front fighters involved in the standoff with government forces there.

The summons to Jimmy Villaflores and Teodyver Arquiza, both of RMN-Zamboanga, and Julie Alipala, Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent in Mindanao and NUJP National Directorate member, clearly indicate that the fiscal’s office intended to use whatever information they provided in the government’s building of cases against MNLF members involved in the crisis.

We understand that Villaflores and Arquiza, who are, incidentally, also village officials, have refused to share any information with the fiscal, saying they would need the permission of their station and would also need to consult their lawyers before making a decision.

It remains unclear if any other journalists have received similar summons.

First of all, we believe the city prosecutor has no authority to issue a subpoena for materials collected by journalists in the course of their coverage, such materials being considered privileged information.

Also, Republic Act 53, or the Sotto Law, shields journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources, unless so ordered by a court of law and only on matters relating to national security.

We do not see how the materials collected by journalists through interviews with MNLF fighters can be considered national security matters, especially if these had already been part of published or broadcast news reports which, in this case, would only show up the shoddy work of those who seek to build cases against the rebels.

We commend Villaflores, Arquiza, and Alipala for refusing to acquiesce to the prosecutor’s request and urge them to continue doing so.

We also urge media outfits who may receive similar requests, whether in Zamboanga or elsewhere, to compel their news staff to hand over information to reject such requests outright.

FOR REFERENCE

Frencie Carreon
Chairperson, NUJP ZamBaSulta Chapter
Rowena Paraan
Chairperson, NUJP

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