#PressFreedom: Reviewing the state of media under Duterte

February 14, 2019 - 7:06 PM
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Maria Ressa with reporters
Maria Ressa, the CEO of online news platform Rappler, speaks to the media after posting bail at a Manila Regional Trial Court in Manila City, Philippines, February 14, 2019. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

The hashtag “#PressFreedom” trended in social media on Thursday following the arrest of Rappler chief Maria Ressa by the National Bureau of Investigation on charges of cyberlibel.

The charge came from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over an article by Rappler published in May 2012 that allegedly violated the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Ressa initially went to a night court to post bail after she was arrested by NBI agents but was later on detained in their headquarters.

By the morning of February 14, the Rappler chief posted bail before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 45 with an amount of P100,000.

The Philippine press under Duterte

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) revealed in a January 2019 report that President Rodrigo Duterte’s relationship with journalists has become “tense” in 2018.

It cited the instances that the chief executive has attacked the media and how journalists have lost their lives under his administration.

A previous report also enumerated the times Duterte has slammed media outlets such as Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler for being critical of the administration, particularly his “War on Drugs” campaign.

His recent attack against Rappler has caught the attention of local and foreign journalist organizations who deemed it a malicious “manipulation of law.”

NUJP said: “This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought.”

President Rodrigo Duterte answers questions from members of the media after leading the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the San Lorenzo Ruiz General Hospital in Malabon City on Jan. 29, 2019. (PCOO/Toto Lozano)

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the Philippines ranked 133th among the countries whose journalists enjoy autonomy when it comes to reporting stories. The ranking has decreased six points since 2017.

“The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (down six at 133rd), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they ‘are not exempted from assassination,'” the report said.

It also cited that the Duterte administration has “developed several methods for pressuring and silencing journalists” who have been critical of his anti-narcotics campaign.

The Human Rights Watch in a May 2018 report condemned democratic governments who have been controlling media, calling it “especially disturbing.”

It acknowledged the importance of an independent press in society with the following statement:

“Independent media are fundamental not only to a well-functioning democracy, but to anyone who wants to know whether tap water is safe for your kids to drink, if veterans are getting proper medical care, if the women in your life face sexual harassment at work or sexual assault on campus, or if the land you live on has been poisoned by industry.”