Sunday, January 18, 2009

PHILIPPINES: DP -- Media & Sanctity of Life

Human Rights Reporting Project -- there is so much here parallel & related to US issues!

"How would (and how ever did) this fit in with the Church's view on the sanctity of life?" - excerpt from article below -

Given the furor over the case of the Alabang Boys and calls for the restoration of the death penalty, now is possibly a good time to ask if the media should to be taking any kind of stand on capital punishment.

On the one hand, some argue the media’s role should be to simply report news along with the views and opinions of others and so should have no position either way. Others however argue that the presence of Op-Ed (opinion-editorial) pages in newspapers proves the media has its own voice and that it should ultimately use it to monitor and protect society.

If one agrees with that latest statement, would the Philippine media be protecting or hurting society if it came out against, or in favor of, the death penalty? There are probably many different views on this and I guess that in the end may be part of the answer. Perhaps we shouldn't try and seek a collective position – but should simply be looking for a free, frank, full and sober debate across and through the media. In this way we avoid the issue being dominated by the politicians of fear.

A little more on that later.

Those who say that the Philippine media has no role to play here would do well to remember that Amnesty International whose position on the death penalty is very well known, was itself directly born out of a campaigning story run by the British Observer newspaper back in 1961 by the organization’s founder Peter Benenson. Four decades on, the same paper incidentally came out strongly in favor of the Iraq War to the dismay of many of its readers.

Following on from that and given the universal acceptance of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a code of principles to respect and follow - and in particular Article 3, ('Everyone has the right to life') is it not right to insist all media and journalists should observe and support without exception the UN Resolution passed in December 2007 which called for a moratorium on the death penalty while seeking to end its actual practice the world over?

On the one hand and from a moral perspective we might be saying 'obviously', and 'yes'. But on the other, possibly 'no'. The UN has also adopted the Millennium Development Goals. Does that mean too that all journalists and media should sign up 100 % behind them and brook no dissent?

Journalism obviously goes hand in hand with dissent and free speech and the day dissent or alternative opinions from the mainstream are prescribed by law (or even mere convention) is the day real democracy dies.

Should a media outlet or journalist be condemned because they support the death penalty? Well I probably wouldn't buy them a beer, but it remains their right and that is something we must fight to protect.

Singapore voted against the UN Resolution on the Death Penalty (as did many others states) maintaining that capital punishment was a criminal and not a human rights issue and thus must be left to be determined by individual states. Some would agree with this, while others would not.

From media reports this week in Manila it seems senior drug enforcement officials at the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), alongside others advocate the reintroduction of the death penalty for serious drug offensives on the basis that they constitute "a security threat to the state" –i.e. the most serious of criminal acts.

But then, it could be argued, so too does 'terrorism' constitute a threat to the state; so too conflict; so too the credit crunch; so too the rice shortage; so too dissent – and so too the prospect of Manny Pacquiao finally losing to Ricky Hatton.

God knows what would happen then.

But should all these too become capital crimes because some deem them to be a security threat to the state? Or would this be a retrograde step?

Given the broad definition of what some in the Philippines see as a threat to the state and thus a possible capital crime, are we not in danger of heading down a slippery slope with the calls to show what has been reported in the media as 'tough love' and severely punish the few to save the many?

God knows if I were the head of an anti-drug task force in Manila and saw what was happening to what I might have thought was a water-tight case I too might have been left very angry and frustrated. But at the end of the day, we should not necessarily cite the Chinese model of control as an example to follow – and we need to acknowledge that the phrase 'a threat to the state' is a dangerous exaggeration that the media here would do well to pick up on. Such phrases are far more often heard and used in totalitarian countries than in real democracies.

Drugs and crime –and things like corruption- undermine and hurt society - but surely not the state.

The Thai authorities literally declared war on domestic drug dealers some years ago and hundreds of people were summarily executed by military and police death squads. Nobody in the Philippines is I hope proposing that, but there is a risk of overreacting. The danger is in demanding populist measures like the death penalty when the real issue seems to be a failure of the rule and operation of law.

If people who are proven guilty escape justice because of a corrupt system, then fix the system: introducing the ultimate penalty is no panacea for a broken system and officials and politicians should be wary of adopting cheap and easy populist platforms.

This brings us back to the issue of the media and the fact that some say at the last resort it should protect society (again, not the State) from demagoguery and dictators.

President Arroyo and the Department of Foreign Affairs deserve full credit for intervening in the case of overseas Filipino workers who stand on death row. Some would say that they are only doing their job, but how could they intervene with any real morality if capital punishment were to be reintroduced back home?

How would (and how ever did) this fit in with the Church's view on the sanctity of life?

It is all a very interesting and crucial issue to discuss: It would good to see the media join and not simply leave it to a few wily politicians and beleaguered officials to set the agenda and frame the debate.

(source: Pinoy Press----Alan Davis is the director of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project) Also find at Rick Halperin's Death Penalty News & Updates --see his & other links on home page - bottom right)

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