Editorial: Frozen journo killings

MARK November for murdered journos.

Last Nov. 2, observed as All Souls’ Day, was also declared by the United Nations (UN) in December 2013 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

It should be significant for the Philippines, declared as “one of four countries that are at the center of a global campaign for freedom of expression,” reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) last Nov. 3.

Along with Mexico, Ukraine and Yemen, the Philippines was singled out by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in its global campaign to demand the accountability of governments and other “de facto authorities,” particularly in nations where many crimes, including murder, against journalists remain unsolved and the freedom of expression, compromised.

Freedom and journalists

Like rice and viand, bread and butter, press freedom is the best match for democracy.

“All attacks targeting journalists must be denounced… There can be no press freedom where journalists work in fear,” declared the IFJ, which is based in Brussels and represents 300,000 journalists around the world.

This Nov. 23 will be the sixth year of the Maguindanao Massacre, named by the IJF as the “key focal point of the Philippine media’s battle with impunity.”

The global organization noted that not a single killer has been convicted in the Maguindanao Massacre, where 190 people are accused of killing 58 people, including 32 journalists, in the province of Maguindanao. Eighteen of the 190 accused are surnamed Ampatuan, noted the same PDI report.

Also named as the Ampatuan Massacre, after the towns where the mass graves were found, the Maguindanao Massacre is the worst single attack on the press, making the country “the deadliest for journalists in Southeast Asia,” said the IFJ.

Crimes and impunity

Last Oct. 31, radio reporter and broadcaster Jose Bernardo died after he was shot repeatedly by a motorcycle-riding tandem in Quezon City. Authorities are checking whether Bernardo’s death was related to his work as a journalist.

Five journalists have been killed in the country this year. As monitored by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), 32 journalists were killed since the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009. Since 1986 and the restoration of press freedom, 169 journalists died violently in the country.

On the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Bernardo’s killing may be a chilling reminder that the “fallout for the media (killings)” continues.

According to the IFJ, 40 percent of the slain journalists worked for newspapers.

Under fire

From Nov. 2 to Nov. 23, the IFJ, NUJP and other advocates lead the observance of a global campaign focusing on freedom of expression.

Stressing the link between the endangered practice of journalism and the “imperiled” democracy and the people’s right to know, the IFJ and the NUJP urge communities to get involved in the campaign to demand authorities to investigate the murders and bring their perpetrators to justice.

In the country, “lumad (indigenous people)” and citizens were recently joined by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in protesting the violation of the lumads’ rights, particularly as a result of their recruitment as combatants by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. The culture of impunity cuts swathes into society, violating the lives and rights of many sectors.

While authorities have yet to confirm if the murdered Bernardo is the 170th journalist to die in the line of duty since 1986, the culture of death and impunity takes its toll on the profession in many ways.

Practitioners are threatened into silence or coerced to avoid or drop enterprise and investigative journalism work that exposes corruption and other community evils. Students, who may have aspired to become future journalists, choose other professions that pose no risk to their lives and offer better compensation.

Through direct or indirect means, the unsolved killings of journalists threaten the foundation of democracy. That is more than enough reason to rage against short memories in November.
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