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Philippine Journalists Blast Proposal to Outlaw Interviews with 'Terrorists'

  • Benjamin Sand

A leading media rights group in the Philippines has slammed portions of a proposed anti-terrorism bill. The new law - backed by the military - would prohibit journalists from interviewing alleged terrorists.

The National Union of Journalists in Manila calls the proposal the starkest challenge yet to press freedom in the Philippines.

Union Chairperson Carlos Conde says the law would work against the public's right to free speech and balanced news reporting.

"What scares us the most is the idea that we cannot talk to anybody else except the government when we report about the terror campaign here. It's like a sword hanging over the head of the journalists," he said.

The military argues that the law is designed to protect the common good.

A military spokesman says the new restrictions will only limit the ability of terrorists to gain publicity and threaten national security.

But press groups argue that existing regulations are already sufficient to limit terrorist groups' access to public airwaves.

The government currently has the right to revoke the broadcast licenses of stations that air information deemed harmful to state security.

Ruperto Nicdao, president of the Philippine's broadcast association, says member agencies already honor those concerns.

He says his group has independently agreed not to broadcast interviews with known terrorists, such as the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants.

"We're saying that we, as an association can regulate our own ranks. That's what we've been doing for the last 31 years," he said.

Mr. Nicdao says the problem with the proposed law is the military's broad definition of terror.

He fears that if the law is passed, the media could be kept from speaking with anybody opposed to the government or the military. That, he says, is censorship, not national security.

The national journalist's union says it is launching a national campaign against the proposal this week. The union's allies in Congress have vowed to prevent the law from being passed.