Friday, April 9, 2010

UP CMC: Resist the ‘Arroyo-fication’ of Media, Arts & Culture

UP CMC: Resist the ‘Arroyo-fication’ of Media, Arts & Culture

April 3, 2010

Resist the 'Arroyo-fication' of media, arts and culture: UP CMC calls on candidates to present Media Agenda

The undersigned faculty members of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) views with grave concern what they describe to be the "Arroyo-fication" of media, arts and culture.

Despite government claims that there is nothing irregular with the spate of political appointments which include key positions in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), National Historical Institute (NHI) and the National Museum (NM), it cannot be denied that most of them are closely identified with the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

If the latter is sincere in promoting media, culture and the arts, the new political appointments, if indeed necessary, should be based on merit, not political patronage or affiliation.

In the case of the CCP, the five board members who were replaced – Jaime Laya, Nes Jardin, Behn Cervantes, Tessie Luz and Lorna Kapunan – opposed last year the inclusion in the Order of National Artist of Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and Carlo J. Caparas, both of whom are close to the government. That the new CCP board appointees recently tried but failed to oust CCP Chair Emily Abrera shows the intention of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to use influential positions in culture and the arts to get even with its critics.

Television and film’s vulnerability to the dictates of the powers-that- be becomes more apparent with the recent decision of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to give an "X (Not for Public Viewing)" rating to two films by award-winning directors scheduled to be shown in ABS-CBN News Channel’s (ANC) AmBisyon 2010.

Even if the MTRCB later changed to "R (Restricted)" its X rating of Brillante Mendoza’s Ayos Ka, the board maintained its "X" rating of Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ganito Tayo Ngayon, Paano na Tayo Bukas? Both films analyze the realities of poverty in the Philippines, the manner of which the MTRCB deems to "undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government" and "defamatory to the good name and reputations of any person." When the MTRCB reviewed Jeturian’s film the second time, it added that his work "tends to threaten economic and political stability of the state" and "depicts excretory functions in a patently offensive and demeaning manner."

The "Arroyo-fication" may be seen in the brazen attempts of MTRCB to promote on television and film only one point of view in depicting social realities – that of the government. Anything that toes the line, as in the case of Mendoza and Jeturian, is simply unacceptable to the powers-that- be.

Despite the change in the rating of Mendoza’s work, both films still cannot be shown on television as the MTRCB requires a G (General Patronage) or PG (Parental Guidance) rating.

Even if the word "censorship" cannot be found in Presidential Decree No. 1986 and in MTRCB’s Implementing Rules and Regulations, what the board is doing is exactly that: Making impositions on what is acceptable to the public, even on the discussion and analysis of social issues.

When the MTRCB was established in 1985, it was meant to be a temporary body to help facilitate self-regulation on television and film. Now in its 25th year, its transitional nature has apparently become permanent.

The death threats via text message recently received by journalist Marites Vitug as a result of her book about the Supreme Court (Shadow of Doubt) show a different permutation of "Arroyo-fication," that of the culture of impunity that emboldens some sectors to harass, intimidate and even kill media practitioners who dare expose the truth. Vitug made the right decision to publicly expose the death threat she received. Just like other media groups, the UP CMC condemns this development and calls on the government to end the culture of impunity that gives rise to such assault on press freedom.

On the occasion of the May 10 national and local elections, the UP CMC calls on the candidates to present a clear Media Agenda which includes a program for self-regulation in the media. They should clearly state where they stand on the continued existence of the MTRCB and how it is used as an instrument to muzzle freedom of expression on television and film. More specifically, they should state how justice can be attained for the victims of the November 23 Ampatuan massacre where 32 journalists were killed, as well as how they could help end the unabated media killings.

While it is laudable for some candidates to denounce the so-called midnight appointments in the culture and arts-related bodies, they should present once and for all a clear Media Agenda. Voters should know who among the current candidates are the advocates of freedom of expression and are opposed to the “Arroyo-fication” of media, arts and culture.

Lastly, the UP CMC joins the other concerned Filipino people in maintaining vigilance and the days, weeks and months to come as there are signs that Macapagal-Arroyo plans to exert power and influence even beyond the expiration of her term as President. Such moves do not just threaten freedom of the press and of expression but also the people’s other basic freedoms.


Dr. Roland Tolentino, Dean
Dr. Lourdes Portus, College Secretary
Prof. Danilo Arao, Department of Journalism