Enhanced protection, benefits for media workers eyed in Senate measure

MARIA RESSA, Executive Editor and CEO of Philippine news website Rappler, speaks to the media beside former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. (L) and lawyer Ted Te (R), after being found guilty of cyber-libel, in Manila City Hall, June 15. — REUTERS

A Senate measure is seeking to provide enhanced protection, security, benefits for the country’s media workers.

Senate President Vicente Sotto’s Senate Bill No. 1820, otherwise known as the Media Workers’ Welfare Act, guarantees security of tenure for media workers given how they go “the extra mile” to give the public necessary information.

“At times when reliable and accurate information is crucial, such as today amid the menacing health impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, media workers have set aside all fear and reason and have gone the extra mile to gather facts and figures to make the public fully aware of what is happening in their government and communities,” Mr. Sotto said in a statement to the press on Friday. “The media has even gone beyond their duty of newsgathering. They have become the voice of the marginalized and the scared. They bridge and connect the people and their public leaders.”

Citing the hazardous circumstances media workers are exposed to, the bill also guarantees them P500 daily as hazard pay for dangerous coverage.

Mr. Sotto said that media workers should be provided a comprehensive benefits package while also receiving current benefits enjoyed by other workers in both public and private sectors, adding that they should also be entitled to insurance benefits aside from what the government currently provides.

The House measure also hold media entities, including their franchise holders, responsible for “all contents released under its name,”

“Owners of media entities, including the franchise holder, shall be solidarily liable for any claims against media workers in connection with their work, regardless of the nature of engagement,” the bill stated.

The bill also noted that stakeholders of a media entity shall also be “solidarily liable for any claims arising from the aired through advertisements.”

“Any agreement to the contrary shall be void,” it further said.

Asked to comment on the proposed measure, National Union of Journalists of the Philippine Chairperson Nonoy Espina told BusinessWorld that any attempt to legislate matters concerning the media has serious consequences, saying that it could be used by state forces to suppress or regulate the press.

“Actually, the NUJP is, on principle, against any attempt to legislate media matters. First, we should not be treated as a special sector or subject to class legislation because we are not entitled to any more rights as everyone else. Second, any legislation affecting the media may always be used to regulate or suppress,” Mr. Espina expressed.

Proper enforcement of labor laws is enough, said the union leader. “All we want is the proper enforcement of laws such as those on labor,” he said.

Mr. Sotto’s proposed measure on media mandates the country’s labor department to create a News Media Tripartite Council that will cater to the concerns of media stakeholders.

Under the penal provision, a penalty of P30,000 to P500,000,000 would be imposed on a person or entity operating as a job contractor without a license. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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