When it started in 2005, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) had modest goals of discussing media issues and providing a local grievance mechanism for offended news sources.

But many projects and scars in the fight for press freedom and responsibility later, its outsize impact has earned it a seat in discussions on the formation of a transnational press body.

In Bangkok last May 24, CCPC represented the Philippines in a meeting with national press council delegates from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam to study the creation of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Press Council that will apply for stakeholder status in the Asean Secretariat.

CCPC, advocate of a free press, is no stranger to conversations. Over the years, it has used conversations to advance its relations with stakeholders and improve journalism standards and reporting.

It partnered with the Commission on Elections 7, Police Regional Office (PRO) 7, poll watchdog C-Cimpel and voters’ literacy advocate Dilaab Foundation to improve coverage of the 2013 elections, extending a collaboration that began in 2010. Under the project, media and election stakeholder dialogues before the May 13 polls threshed out obstacles to reporting, and an Election Media Center set up at PRO 7 centralized the flow of information between media and news sources from May 12-14.

CCPC’s pursuits have enduring effects on journalists. Last year, conversations with Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Cebu City and Cebu chapters led to the start of a database of journalism law and jurisprudence and cases of assault on media. Cebu Journlaw at www.cebucitizenspresscouncil.org will help journalists avoid libel, violence and other pitfalls of media work, according to the agreement signed by (below, from left) CCPC vice president Sabino Dapat, Cemla president Elias Espinoza, IBP-Cebu City president Earl Bonachita and IBP-Cebu president Ferdinand Pepito.

A voice also for citizens, CCPC champions free speech and press. Among its resolutions:

Resolution seeking passage of the Freedom of Information Act, Sept. 20, 2012:

“There have been mixed signals from President Aquino and from his allies regarding their real intent about the bill. … The Council … ask(s) the honorable legislators to pass a bill that serves the public’s right to know without prejudicing public interest, as distinguished from the private interest of government officials, and without using the bill as vehicle for the right-to-reply bill.”

Resolution objecting to The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Sept.  28, 2012:

“(It) empowers the Department of Justice … without court process, to order the shutdown of any website it finds libelous, which will have the same effect as padlocking a newspaper plant or broadcast station. … The provision on Internet libel under the new law violates the constitutional guarantee of free speech and free press, due process of law, and equal protection of the law, aside from being unclear about innocent participants in the conversation on the web.”

Resolution reiterating support for media bills, July 18, 2013:

“(a) House Bill 26 that strengthens the right of citizens to information held by the government, (b) House Bill 362 that expands the protection of the Sotto Law; and (c) House Bill 363 that limits the venue of libel and other complaints to the principal office of the newspaper or broadcast station whose journalists are sued. …. CCPC applaud(s) the authors who re-filed, or will re-file, the said bills, urging them to continue the pursuit to help improve the practice of community media.”

In 2011, CCPC opposed the proposed “Anti-Obscenity Ordinance” for provisions that constituted prior restraint and violated due process of law. The measure has since been dropped, presenting a gain for the council in its fight for an unfettered but responsible press. Cherry Ann T. Lim