The people don’t see press freedom

By: Mahar Mangahas - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 16,2021 - 08:00 AM

In its file of survey questions, Social Weather Stations has two items on the state of free speech, as appraised by the Filipino people. The original item, first surveyed in what was Marcos’ final year, is on the ability of the people themselves, represented by those surveyed, to speak openly and fearlessly on everything they like, even if against the administration.

Self-reported freedom to speak against the administration. In July 1985, respondents were asked whether they agreed (strongly/somewhat), felt neutral, or disagreed (somewhat/strongly) with the statement: “Nasasabi ko nang hayagan at walang takot ang lahat ng gusto kong sabihin kahit na ito ay laban sa administrasyon.” (“I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration.”)

To this query, 33 percent agreed, 37 percent were neutral, and 29 percent disagreed. I don’t recall any other survey item, at any time, where non-commitment was the most common response. The 33 percent agreement in 1985 is the all-time record low, after 41 repetitions under succeeding presidents.

In eight SWS surveys of Cory Aquino’s time, the percentage of agreement with this item ranged from 46 to 74—the record high in March 1987, after the ratification of the Constitution. In three surveys under Fidel Ramos, the range was 51 to 62; in eight surveys under Joseph Estrada, 57 to 62; in nine surveys under Gloria Arroyo, 47 to 61; in six surveys under Noynoy Aquino, 50 to 61; and in six surveys under Rodrigo Duterte, 59 to 65, the latest in November 2020. Rarely were those feeling free to speak against the administration below 50 percent.

Self-reported freedom to speak against Duterte. This year, SWS revised the survey question by changing its final words to “laban kay Pangulong Duterte” (“against President Duterte”). The resulting agreement-disagreement percentages were 38-33 in May 2021, 45-27 in June 2021, and 42-22 in September 2021. This put the net agreement rate at a relatively low +5 in May; but it recovered to +18 in June, and +22 in September.

Note that the change in the item is that it specifies the administration official against whom the criticism is directed. The medium for channeling the criticism is another matter, surveyed separately, and taken up below.

Freedom of the press to criticize the administration. A relatively new item, used by SWS in five national surveys since 2019, is about whether the survey respondents see it dangerous for journalists to publish the truth on things that criticize the administration, i.e., it is about press freedom in particular (“Third Quarter 2021 Social Weather Survey: 45% say it is dangerous to publish things critical of the administration; only 19% disagree,” www.sws.org.ph, 10/14/21).

The item asks if the respondent agrees (strongly/somewhat), feels neutral, or disagrees (somewhat/strongly) with the statement: “Mapanganib na mag-lathala/mag-print o mag-broadcast ng anumang kritikal sa administrasyon, kahit na ito ang katotohanan.” (“It is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.”)

In all five surveys of this item, the Agrees have dominated: Most Filipinos say that it is dangerous for writers/broadcasters to criticize the administration. The first SWS survey on this, in June 2019, got agree-disagree percentages of 51-20. The second, in November 2020, got 65-16. The third, in May 2021, got 42-25. The fourth, in June 2021, got 45-25. The fifth, on September 12-16, 2021, got 45-19.

The September 2021 national agree-disagree score breaks down into 45-28 in the National Capital Region, 46-18 in Balance Luzon, 47-16 in Visayas, and 41-17 in Mindanao. Thus, most people everywhere, including the President’s area, say it is dangerous for media people to criticize the administration.

Most people, from every level of schooling, say it is dangerous for media people to criticize the administration. The agree-disagree percentages for this freedom of the press indicator, in September 2021, are 38-11 for elementary dropouts, 42-21 for elementary graduates, 47-18 for junior high school graduates, and 49-21 for college graduates. (I consider schooling a more reliable indicator of social class than the market research groups ABCDE.)

Most people, from north to south, say it is dangerous for media people to be critical of the administration. Most people, from all walks of life, say the same. In the past two years, the people haven’t been seeing press freedom.

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TAGS: as appraised by the Filipino people, free speech, Social Weather Station

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