Reviewing the Campus Journalism Act of 1991

N.B. – This is my keynote speech for the National Conference on Campus Journalism and 6th Writing Competition on January 17, 2013 at the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP)-Tagaytay. I was invited by the Organization of Student Services Educators, Inc. (OSSEI) which organized the event.

Isang mapagpalayang hapon sa inyong lahat! A liberating afternoon to all of you!

I was asked this afternoon to review Republic Act No. 7079, also known as the Campus Journalism Act of 1991. Campus journalists are encouraged to read and understand this law. It is only two pages long so it should not be that hard.

Approved on July 5, 1991, the Campus Journalism Act or CJA seeks to “uphold and protect the freedom of the press even at the campus level,” as stated in the law’s Section 2 (Declaration of Policy). The law also aims to “promote the development and growth of campus journalism as a means of strengthening ethical values, encouraging critical and creative thinking, and developing moral character and personal discipline of the Filipino youth (Sec. 2).”

As regards having a publication adviser, the law states that it is optional at the tertiary level. At the elementary and high school levels, the duly appointed faculty adviser is even part of the editorial board (Sec. 3d, Editorial Board). Nevertheless, the campus publication has a say in the selection of its faculty adviser. According to Sec. 6 (Publication Adviser), he or she “shall be selected by the school administration from a list of recommendees submitted by the publication staff.”

Please take note that the function of publication adviser is limited to technical guidance (Sec. 6), and that he or she should not interfere with the contents of the campus publication. From an editorial standpoint, technical guidance refers to nuances in media production like checking the grammar of articles and ensuring adherence to professional standards when it comes to the design and layout of the pages.

His or her role is limited because autonomy should be given to campus publications. The CJA, after all, recognizes that “a student publication is published by the student body through an editorial board and publication staff composed of students selected by fair and competitive examinations (Sec. 4, Student Publication).” It adds, “Once the publication is established, its editorial board shall freely determine its editorial policies and manage the publication’s funds (Sec. 4).”

From this provision, it is clear that the law seeks to uphold the editorial independence of campus publications. This independence is defined not only in terms of editorial content but also in terms of day-to-day operations, particularly fund management. The law explicitly states, “In no instance shall the Department of Education, Culture and Sports or the school administration concerned withhold the release of funds sourced from the savings of the appropriations of the respective schools and other sources intended for student publication. Subscription fees collected by the school administration shall be released automatically to the student publication concerned (Sec. 5, Funding of Student Publication).”

Much as the law has its strengths, it also has its share of weaknesses. For one, the funding of the student publication is optional. Under Sec. 5 of the CJA, what’s stated there is that funding “may include the savings of the respective school’s appropriations, student subscriptions, donations, and other sources of funds (Sec. 5, emphasis mine).” The use of the word “may” makes budget appropriation for student publications optional. This provision of the CJA, ironically, has been invoked time and again by some school administrators in depriving financial support to student publications. For example, there are school administrators who would just simply refuse to collect publication fees during enrollment and the student publication would not be able to publish due to lack of funds.

Since the term “technical guidance” is not defined in Sec. 3 (Definition of Terms), some school administrators and faculty advisers had liberally defined it based on their own understanding or misunderstanding of the journalism profession. Clearly, doing so had compromised the editorial independence of student publications.

According to the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) in 2008, there were reportedly 279 cases of campus press freedom violations (“CEGP reports 279 cases of campus press freedom violations,” GMA News online, June 7, 2008, retrieved from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/99878/news/nation/cegp-reports-279-cases-of-campus-press-freedom-violations). CEGP says that 61 cases were adviser/moderator intervention; 64 cases, censorship; and 41 cases, harassment. “Other complaints concerned with publication fee collection, the non-release of publication fee funds and illegal closure of publications were also included in the report,” the GMA News online article notes.

In 2010, the CEGP had documented 204 campus press freedom violations nationwide from 42 respondent publications. While there is no new data on campus press freedom violations, the information provided by CEGP is alarming, especially in a situation where there is supposed to be a law that promotes and upholds campus press freedom. It is this context that we should look at various calls either for the amendment or the repeal of the CJA. Since campus journalists reportedly still become victims of harassment and intimidation, the CJA is being perceived as useless to students and prone to abuse by school officials.

It is not surprising that at the House of Representatives, there is now a pending bill that seeks to repeal the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 and to replace it with a Campus Press Freedom Act. Introduced on February 28, 2011 by Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino and Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, House Bill No. 4287 argues that while the CJA of 1991 has strong provisions, it is “insufficient and lacking in material aspects to fully maintain the existence of the campus press.” To quote from the bill’s explanatory note: “In the hands of devious school administrators, the Campus Journalism Act places in jeopardy the existence of campus publications nationwide.”

Among the features of the proposed Campus Press Freedom Act is requiring all basic and tertiary schools to establish at least one student publication (Sec. 4, Student Publication). Sec. 6 (Independence) of the bill seeks to provide autonomy from administrative intervention “with regard to the handling of its funds, the content of the articles the editorial board chooses to publish, the selection of its publication staff and members of the editorial board.” It also adds that the operations of the student publication “shall not be delayed, suspended or closed down in connection with the articles it has published, or on the basis of the conduct or performance of its staff without due process.”

As regards funding of student publications which is a fundamental weakness in the CJA of 1991, the bill clearly states that it shall be “mandatory for the school administration to collect student publication/subscription fees during the enrollment period,” even if the members of the student publication could opt to collect the publication funds themselves without administrative intervention (Sec. 7, Funding of Student Publications).

On the other hand, Sec. 9 (Publication Adviser) of the bill seeks to make a publication adviser’s appointment upon the discretion of the editorial board. In other words, it is now possible for the student publication not to have a publication adviser. In case a publication adviser is appointed, he or she shall only engage in “technical assistance,” defined as anything “related to the grammatical concerns, proofreading and the like (Sec. 9, Publication Adviser).”

Another advantage of the bill is the Sec. 15 (Administrative Sanctions) which empowers the Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and the Department of Education, upon due investigation, to impose administrative sanctions for campus press freedom violations like censorship of editorial content and harassment and intimidation of campus journalists.

According to the website of the House of Representatives, the proposed Campus Press Freedom Act has been referred on March 7, 2011 to the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture and secondarily referred to the Committee on Higher and Technical Education.

At this point, it would be therefore advisable for campus journalists to read and understand not only the CJA of 1991 but also the proposed Campus Press Freedom Act.

Now that we have discussed the current law and the proposed bill to replace it, we should remind ourselves of our role as campus journalists so that we can better justify the need to continue to fight for campus press freedom. The points I raise here are culled from a column article I wrote on April 12, 2010 titled “Campus journalists as `torch bearers'” which was published in the Asian Correspondent (http://asiancorrespondent.com/31005/campus-journalists-as-torch-bearers/).

In that article, I wrote: The campus press helps provide relevant information to students so that they could make informed decisions. We all know that there are so many issues confronting students. Campus journalists should help make sense of the reality not only by providing the data but also the analysis. To borrow a mathematical equation, INFORMATION = DATA + ANALYSIS; where the term DATA refers to “observable reality” and the term ANALYSIS refers to the framework used in making sense of what one observes through any one or a combination of his or her five senses.
Given the advent of new media, the challenge for campus journalists is to not just confine themselves to the print medium. Their publications should maintain a Web presence. They should seriously consider opening accounts in popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and encourage their target audience (students) to be part of their “virtual groups.”

In terms of writing skills, a campus journalist should be able to write well and to write fast. In terms of disposition, he or she should develop the “nose for news” or the ability to discern which is newsworthy in analyzing issues and events. But the ability to provide in-depth analyses comes from a campus journalist’s understanding of the history and context of the prevailing social reality. Through a much deeper understanding of what is happening around him or her, a campus journalist is able to analyze the prevailing social contradictions, as well as realize the reasons for the age-old social conflicts.

Campus journalists are torch bearers in the sense that they try to shed light on issues. As regards the latter, there should be no distinction between local and national issues, but simply issues that affect, directly or indirectly, the lives of students. In the discussion of issues, what makes campus journalists different from their so-called professional counterparts is their duty to relate all issues to their respective communities.

A discussion of low wages, for example, should take into account how students are affected by having an equally lower allowance. In other words, campus journalists should not try to imitate the discussion in, say, the mainstream media where analyses are often done in the context of a much broader audience.

The main responsibility of campus journalists is to their communities, and their analyses must therefore have that necessary focus.

Campus journalists must therefore keep in mind their role in their respective schools. To become real torch bearers, they should help open the minds of students to the situation not only on campus but also in society as a whole. Truth-telling is fulfilled when they are able to present both the data and the analysis of issues.

I personally know campus journalists both in high school and college who know how to fight for their rights. At the same time, there are those who get harassed and intimidated by school officials. By joining student organizations that promote and uphold campus press freedom, campus journalists are better guided not only in going about their work but also in helping fight for their rights. What’s important to stress at this point is that campus press freedom is integral to student rights. Related to this, campus journalists should see themselves as part of the student movement and not separate from it.

In conclusion, allow me to leave you this important message: All of us should be aware of what’s happening in society so that we could better analyze burning social issues and put everything in proper context. Our audience deserves nothing less than quality coverage. That’s the only way journalists can help in the shaping of public opinion, that’s the only way campus journalists can be relevant in their respective communities.

Maraming salamat at, muli, isang mapagpalayang hapon sa inyong lahat! Thank you very much and, again, a liberating afternoon to all of you.

One thought on “Reviewing the Campus Journalism Act of 1991”

  1. HOW MUCH IS THE ALLOWABLE AMOUNT OF FUND FOR THE SCHOOL PAPER?

    Reply: This amount of the publication fund depends on factors like printing cost, circulation, frequency of publication and the publication’s overhead expenses (e.g., supplies and equipment).

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