State of media in the Philippines

Since the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists was launched in 2012, how far this has come in safeguarding journalists?
‘DEFEND PRESS FREEDOM’. Journalists from all over the country light candles at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City on May 3, 2024, marking World Press Freedom Day.
‘DEFEND PRESS FREEDOM’. Journalists from all over the country light candles at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City on May 3, 2024, marking World Press Freedom Day.Ralph Llemit/SunStar Photo

THE Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. 

This is being stressed by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights.

Based on the database on the killing of journalists in the country from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), no less than 165 members of the press have been killed since the ouster of the Marcos Sr. administration and the restoration of democracy in the country since 1986.

However, this scenario is also prevailing in other countries. In the 2019 data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,028 journalists have been killed in the line of duty from the Americas to Africa since 2000.

This is why the UN has declared the safety of journalists and ending impunity as essential to preserving freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 2012, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of impunity was launched. This aims to provide a framework for member states to outline their own national programs to defend and strengthen media practitioners, press freedom, and free expression.

The Philippines responded to this call and challenge. From 2018 to 2019, various sectors and stakeholders across the country gathered over several months for a series of consultations on how to cooperate and engineer a national plan of action for the safety of journalists.

This resulted in the crafting of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists (PPASJ).

PPASJ lays down action points and recommendations for the protection of Filipino journalists and media workers and recommends mechanisms and platforms to coordinate efforts through partnerships to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks against journalists.

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) executive director, revealed during the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on May 2, 2024, that from July 1, 2022 to April 30, 2024, the period of the administration of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., 135 incidents of attacks and threats have been reported.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) executive director, revealed during the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on May 2, 2024, that from July 1, 2022 to April 30, 2024, the period of the administration of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., 135 incidents of attacks and threats have been reported.Ralph Llemit/SunStar Photo

State of media

According to Melinda Quintos de Jesus, CMFR executive director, from July 1, 2022 to April 30, 2024, the period of the administration of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., 135 incidents of attacks and threats have been reported.

A huge portion is about intimidation with 75 cases, followed by cyber attacks with 15, assault and harassment with 15, cyber libel and death threats both logged eight, censorship (seven), arrests (five), killings (three), and shooting incidents (one).

The majority of these cases are reported in Metro Manila.

CMFR said the majority of the “perpetrators” of these cases are state agents, including military and police, national government, local government, and even foreign governments.

One of these cases is that of journalist MacArthur Amora of Mati City, who is facing a libel complaint filed against him by Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Z. Almario on March 11, 2022, at the Mati City Prosecutor's Office.

According to Almario's complaint, Amora attacked him on the latter's radio program "Ratsada" on February 16 on the alleged "kickbacks" in the P1.6-billion Coastal Road project of the city.

In a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Amora reported that he experienced intimidation from radio announcers affiliated with the lawmaker.

"Knowing the sources of threat and attack and understanding the means of perpetration is half the battle... these cases must be tracked and reported so everyone knows how their effects can be mitigated and what we as a community can do in order to encourage a societal or national approach," de Jesus said during the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on May 2, 2024.

Risks faced by journalists

Prof. Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and executive director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, said that journalists in the country continue to experience hazards such as physical attacks, red-tagging, harassment (including the filing of trumped-up charges such as libel), state surveillance and monitoring of social media accounts, defamation and smear campaigns, state censorship of journalistic work, pressure on self-censorship and watering down, and trauma and anxiety.

Journalists in the country also experience risks of illegal arrest and detention, imprisonment, acts of violence such as physical and mental torture, extrajudicial killing or assassinations or attempts, and loss of livelihood and shutdown of media organizations.

Simbulan said the past decades have given rise to new threats and challenges to the freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.

These include digital surveillance, online violence, and cybercrimes, particularly on women journalists; increasing prevalence of disinformation and hate speech; misuse of digital platforms; the role of internet companies in mediating freedom of expression and journalists' safety; use of strategic lawsuits against public participation; and growing need to provide emergency assistance to journalists in conflict and non-conflict settings.

"Journalists, like other ordinary citizens, must be able to possess, enjoy, and exercise their rights in order to: live in dignity; grow and develop as human beings; freely make choices and decisions; enhance their skills, talents, and potentials; and pursue their mandates through the practice of their profession in an environment free from fear, anxiety, and constraints," Simbulan said.

She said there is a need to strengthen linkages, networking, and collaboration of journalists and media organizations with human rights groups, alliances, and formations.

Also, there is a need to review and adopt the proposed actions of the UN Plan of Action.

Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development, said during the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on May 2, 2024, that the development of the Safeguarding Press Freedom in the Philippines project aims to safeguard and strengthen the Philippine media by helping to improve the enabling environment for press freedom and the rule of law and putting in place sustainable safety and protection structures and mechanisms for journalists and media workers.
Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development, said during the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on May 2, 2024, that the development of the Safeguarding Press Freedom in the Philippines project aims to safeguard and strengthen the Philippine media by helping to improve the enabling environment for press freedom and the rule of law and putting in place sustainable safety and protection structures and mechanisms for journalists and media workers. Ralph Llemit/SunStar Photo

Addressing gains and gaps

Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development, said that the development of the Safeguarding Press Freedom in the Philippines project aims to safeguard and strengthen the Philippine media by helping to improve the enabling environment for press freedom and the rule of law and putting in place sustainable safety and protection structures and mechanisms for journalists and media workers.

The program focuses on two specific objectives to achieve this overall aim: enabling the environment to become more conducive to the exercise of press freedom and defense of human rights, and protection mechanisms are strengthened, and the capacity of journalists and media workers is enhanced to professionally practice their work in safety and in critical engagement with state actors.

Thus, PPASJ was launched on November 23, 2019.

He said this was the time when media, civil society, and human rights groups were being personally attacked by then-president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Medyo nakakagulat that we were able to start talk and develop this at the time when it was really challenging. That’s a small miracle in a sense,” Batario said.

The consultation was conducted all throughout Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. He said moving forward PPASJ will be conducted at the regional level with different stakeholders.

In addition, he said they also conducted a series of dialogues with state security forces all over the country and conducted continuous dialogue with various government agencies.

A series of discussions were also conducted with various journalists, especially women. RGL

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