As campus journalists throughout the country celebrate the Campus Press Freedom Week, a party-list lawmaker representing the youth sector has renewed calls for the passage of a bill that seeks to amend the Campus Journalism Act of 1991.
Citing a growing number of violations committed against campus journalists and publications, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon called on his colleagues in the House of Representatives to expedite the passage of House Bill 1493 or the “Campus Press Freedom Act of 2013,” which remains at the committee level despite being filed last July 2013.
HB 1493 seeks to repeal Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 (CJA) and replace it with a law that genuinely upholds campus press freedom.
Ridon explained that the CJA is flawed and being used to attack campus press freedom.
“Enacted to supposedly uphold and protect the freedom of the press at the campus level and to promote the development and growth of campus journalism, the CJA sadly contains serious flaws that resulted to even more campus press freedom violations that are even more clever and devious in form,” the youth solon explained.
Some of the weaknesses of RA 7079 include:
(1) It legalizes the non-mandatory collection of publication fee, which is considered as the lifeblood of most student publications. The law does not contain any provision that would mandate school administrations to collect student publication funds. Instead, it only enumerates the sources where the student publication funds may be taken.
(2) Section 7 of the law supposedly gives freedom and space for student journalists to write without fear of any threat of suspension or expulsion, the qualification made by the Supreme Court on the said provision by providing exemptions has rendered the security on tenure provision practically useless. One notable exemption is “material disruption of class work or involving substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others,” which is too broad that even a simple factual article may fall within its application.
(3) The law does not make it mandatory for all colleges and universities in the Philippines to establish student publications. Neither does the said law require that those student publications that remain closed until the present be re-opened for the benefit of students.
(4) The law does not contain a penalty clause, leaving erring administrations unscathed. School administrations are able to commit offense after offense yet suffer no retribution due to the absence of a penalty provision.
(5) The Department of Education, Culture and Sports Order No. 94, Series of 1992, the implementing rules and regulations of the law, contains simply guidelines on the implementation of its provisions with the additional rules on jurisdiction over cases that may arise from violations of the said law. As the implementing rules and regulations cannot lawfully narrow or restrict and expand, broaden, or enlarge the provisions of the law, DECS Order No. 1994 naturally carries the weaknesses of Campus Journalism Act of 1991.
According to the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the oldest and broadest intercollegiate alliance of student publications in the country, several student publications were suddenly closed after the passage of the said law, including three major student publications in the country, namely, The Quezonian of the Manuel L. Quezon University, Ang Pamantasan of the Pamantasan ng Maynila, The White and Blue of the St.Louis University, The Pedon of Mindanao state University – Marawi, EARIST Technozette of the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology, The Dawn of the University of the East, Monthly Quest of the Quezon City Polytechnic University, and the La Sallian of De La Salle University Manila.
Based on the cases documented by the CEGP since 1992, student publications nationwide faced systematic assaults including the following:
(1) harassment of student writers and editors;
(2) meddling with editorial policies;
(3) actual censorship of editorial content;
(4) withholding of publication funds;
(5) non-collection of publication fee;
(6) padlocking of the publication office;
(7) closure of the student publication;
(8) suspension and expulsion of student editors and writers;
(9) filing of libel charges against student journalists
CEGP has documented over 200 campus press freedom violations nationwide from 42 respondent publications. CEGP is one of the founding organizations of Kabataan Partylist.
HB 1493 was first filed in the 15th Congress by then Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino.
Important provisions of HB 1493 include the compulsory establishment or reestablishment of student publications in all school levels, autonomy of the school paper’s editorial board from any form of administrative intervention with regard to the handling of funds, content of articles the editorial board chooses to publish, and the selection of publication staff and members.
Section 7 of HB 1493 also states that “funding for the student publication shall be sourced primarily from student publication fees collected by the school administration. It shall be mandatory for the school administration to collect student publication/subscription fees during the enrollment period.”
“The campus press has an invaluable contribution in the restoration and preservation of free speech and expression inside and outside our nation’s campuses. I therefore urge my fellow legislators to immediately pass this bill into law,” Ridon ended.