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Squeezing of campus journal sparks uproar in Philippines

Leyte Normal University directives over accreditation process for publication seen as stifling press freedom
A poster available on social media condemns the alleged squeezing of 'An Lantawan,' the student publication of Leyte Normal University in Tacloban city of the central Philippines by the management.

A poster available on social media condemns the alleged squeezing of 'An Lantawan,' the student publication of Leyte Normal University in Tacloban city of the central Philippines by the management. (Photo supplied)

Published: November 03, 2023 05:04 AM GMT
Updated: November 03, 2023 05:42 AM GMT

Student groups and media freedom advocates have condemned a leading state-run university in the central Philippines for its alleged attempts to squeeze a campus publication, calling it stifling of press freedom.

For years, An Lantawan (The Watchtower), the official student publication of Leyte Normal University (LNU) in Tacloban city, has been known for its editorial independence as well as liberal, critical and creative articles.

The authorities ordered the students to rename the page, cease the use of the publication name and logo, pending the approval of its accreditation process, its staff alleged.

On Oct. 31, it’s Facebook page was “unpublished,” meaning it was no longer visible to the users. The page with over 40,000 followers was earlier changed to “LNU—Student Publication Office” on Oct. 23.

“I felt devastated because we’ve been working for An Lantawan for many years and since we are prohibited to use the logos, we were holding on to the Facebook page name An Lantawan,” said Troy Ortega, 21, an editor and fourth year student at LNU.

The publication has been serving an estimated 7,000 students at the university, which was established in 1921.

Ortega said the publication currently does not have its editorial board due to an “accreditation” issue.

“We take the initiative, as student journalists and as members of the previous editorial board,” Ortega said.

He alleged their social media page was unpublished “on the grounds of misrepresentation or impersonation, a violation of Facebook’s community standard” shortly after a staff member posted a statement about the university’s advisory on the accreditation requirements.

The university defended its decision in an Oct. 25 statement.

“The university has a responsibility in establishing certain guidelines and standards to ensure quality and integrity of our academic and extracurricular programs. Part of this process is the accreditation of student organizations, including publications like An Lantawan. This is a standard procedure in many educational institutions worldwide,” the university said.

The decision is not an attempt “to curtail the freedom of the speech or of the press” but to ensure “ethical and professional standards,” it added.

An Lantawan staff statement on Oct. 30 refuted the management’s claims.

The accreditation requirement “contradicts the University's Student Manual,” it said, referring that “the school publication should operate within the framework of the working policies of An Lantawan.”

“Accreditation is a requirement that applies solely to student organizations, enabling them to secure a Certificate of Registration as a prerequisite for their operation,” it said.

It also said the university’s decision violates the provisions of the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 and Section 23, Article VIII of the Commission on Higher Education Memorandum Order No. 09.

The university’s move “has the potential to cast a chilling effect on other campus press organizations in the country,” the staff warned.

Meanwhile, An Lantawan’s renamed Facebook page “LNU-Student Publication Office” was retrieved on Nov. 1.

However, the statement from the publication was removed by Facebook allegedly due to mass reporting.

The incident is “a blatant attempt to curtail campus press freedom,” said Professor Uldarico Alviola, head of the Integrated Media Center at Visayas State University.

Student publications from eight state-funded universities in the region issued a statement on Oct. 31 calling for An Lantawan's independence to be assured.

A group of its former editors and members, collectively called An Lantawan Alumni online, also issued a statement urging the university officials “to respect the autonomy of the student publication and uphold campus press freedom.”

Gio Costuna, a former editor-in-chief, expressed dismay over the tussle.

He claimed he faced a cyber libel complaint from a university student council official due to critical reportage. A local court later dismissed the case. 

Maximo Aljibe, a regional director of the state-run Commission on Higher Education issued a statement saying their office “remains committed to supporting and upholding campus journalism as an avenue of student development and growth.”

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, an alliance of tertiary student publications, urged the LNU “to be transparent in dialogue with An Lantawan” and said its move violates press and academic freedom.

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places for journalists where more than 200 media workers have been killed since 1986, according to Human Rights Watch.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Philippines 132nd among 180 nations in the latest Press Freedom Index.

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