A TOTAL of 800 individuals participated in a Lawfare webinar to mark the 2020 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020.
Discussions on repressions against journalists and insights and experiences to address the issue were tackled during the online event.
In her speech, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, chairperson of the Senate committee on social justice, she said that not enough people realize that a free press and democracy coexist.
She said that having unbridled access to information through the media will give the public the capability
of rendering enlightened judgments.
Without free press, the national conversation will be impossible as people will fall to political propaganda and disinformation, she said.
“Our duty is to present the unvarnished truth to our people in a way that they understand what it is that they need to know and what it is that they can do as voters, as citizens,” de Lima said.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 87 press people were murdered in the Philippines between 1992 and 2020. Nineteen of these murders took place in the last four and half years, said Walden Bello, one of the forum speaker.
Bello is a professor at the University of the Philippines and a former representative of Akbayan Party-list.
The murdered journalists were engaged in exposing corruption and coercion in local politics, he said.
Bello highlighted the weaponization of law by the executive against the media.
He cited the denial of the franchise of the television network ABS-CBN and the trial and conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for cyber libel, as examples.
The forum pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte had stated that journalists were not exempted from getting killed.
Under the current administration, journalists and media practitioners have received several threats.
Froilan Gallardo, a journalist in Mindanao, said 128 cases of attacks and threats against members of the press were recorded from June 30, 2016 to April 30, 2019, which included the murder of 12 journalists, 18 online harassment cases, 16 intimidation cases, 12 threats via text messages, 12 libel charges, 10 website attacks, eight slay attempts and five assault cases, among others.
During her talk, Ressa said: “I am a journalist. I am not a criminal yet this is what it takes to try to hold power to account today. I know firsthand why and how democracy is dying.”
Ressa said the government used the pandemic to consolidate power, while the legislature used it to further constrict the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
She said social media creates an impact on civil society, particularly Facebook as it is the world’s largest distributor of news. Anger and hate spread faster on Facebook than the news, she said.
Ressa said what Filipinos need to do is to have a forum on information on press freedom and democracy, encouraging independent news organizations to survive the crisis of confidence and trust and tap the global community of journalists. (KFD)