Media groups record 85 attacks on press freedom under Duterte

Eloisa Lopez
Media groups record 85 attacks on press freedom under Duterte
'Separately and together, these 85 cases have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte,' says Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

MANILA, Philippines – Media groups have recorded at least 85 cases of attacks and threats against the press during the first 22 months of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

This is the official tally released by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) during the presentation of their joint research on the current situation of Philippine press at the “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check” forum in Quezon City on Thursday, May 3.

The 6-page report released in observance of World Press Freedom Day cites in detail the 85 attacks on journalists from June 30, 2016 to May 1, 2018.

The attacks include 9 murders, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attacks, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.  

“The number far exceeds those recorded under 4 presidents before him [Duterte],” PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas said, reading from the report. “Separately and together, these 85 cases have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte.”

CMFR executive director Melinda Quintos-de Jesus added that while these attacks are not new to the industry, the rise in cases is what makes it even more alarming.

“This is not a watch only of Mr Duterte. It is a watch that has already been established from the time that the count [of CFMR] started in 1992, when many media organizations in the US began asking us why there were so many journalists being killed now that there is democratic space,” De Jesus said. 

The report also includes case briefings of the 9  journalists killed under the Duterte administration, namely:

  1. Larry Que, publisher and columnist, Catanduanes News Now
  2. Leodoro Diaz, tabloid columnist, Sapol 
  3. Marlon Muyco, radio journalist, dxNDRadyoBida
  4. Rudy Alicaway, radio journalist, dxPB
  5. Edmund Sestoso, broadcaster and former chairman of NUJP, dGB 91.7 FM
  6. Mario Cantaoi, radio journalist, dzNS
  7. Christopher Lozada, radio journalist, dxBF 
  8. Joaquin Briones, columnist, Remate
  9. Apolinario Suan Jr, radio journalist, Real FM

De Jesus emphasized that the list only includes journalists who were killed in the course of their work, or when “somebody didn’t like the reports they were issuing, they were going after a sensitive area, or some of the powerful people around the location they were working in were displeased.” 

Journalists whose deaths involved corruption, gambling debt, and other personal relationships were excluded from the list to disprove the notion that only corrupt journalists are killed, as insisted by Duterte himself.  (READ: Duterte on killings: Corrupt journalists asked for it)

“There is a disturbing pattern, I believe, when journalists feel that those who are attacked – that’s their problem – and not mine,” De Jesus said. “I think we should begin to think of ourselves as a community – and if one is hurt, one is attacked, then everyone should be feeling it. And if one organization is feeling it, then the institution should be feeling it.”  

Impunity was also highlighted in the report. It said  that only 17 out of the 156 cases of media killings since 1986, have been “partly resolved.” This means either their killers were convicted but the masterminds remained free, or the trials have simply taken too long.

“It is just as important to take note the failure to punish,” De Jesus said. 

Not about killings

Attacks on the press are not limited to murders. In fact, majority of the 85 cases of attacks on the press involved harassment, threats, both physical and verbal intimidation, and also online harassment mostly by Duterte supporters, and attacks by the President himself.

“President Duterte has recklessly accused the news media of inaccuracy and bias, of deliberately spreading ‘fake news’ supposedly to discredit his administration,” the report noted. “These accusations are echoed mostly online by Duterte supporters, some of whom have even incited others to commit violence against journalists.”

The report counts at least 14 cases of online harassment perpetuated mostly by Duterte supporters, validated and cross-referenced through the separate database systems of CMFR and NUJP. This number only includes “prominent” cases, or those that were “coordinated and orchestrated,” including online attacks to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada, Al Jazeera correspondent Jamela Alindongan, and Reuters’ Manny Mogato. There are more. 

But Mangahas said that more than the numbers, the database showed “the magnitude of the community harassing these journalists online.” 

The report traces this “phenomenon” of online attacks to 2016 when some bloggers and social media pages trumpeted Mr Duterte’s candidacy for his promise of change. 

“When he won the presidency, these same bloggers and pages continued to function as disseminators of his every word and even of false information. This they do while demonizing, along with the political opposition, his critics, dissenters, including journalists doing their mandated duty of reporting the truth,” the report noted.

Other attacks and threats experienced and reported by Filipino journalists in the past 22 months include surveillance by state security forces, unwanted police visits, and background checks on reporters newly assigned to cover the PNP.

Contagious courage

“Rodrigo R. Duterte has brandished the power of fear. His threats and attacks bear the full weight of his office, the highest in the land. No need to test constitutional limits. All he seems to want to do is to make enough journalists understand that they should be very afraid,” the report said. 

But while these threats from the government and its supporters continue, NUJP director Raymond Villanueva believed it “only succeeded in uniting media organizations.” The forum itself was a testament to this, he said. 

Villanueva also mentioned the efforts of media groups to organize in fighting for press freedom, citing as an example the Black Friday protests

De Jesus added that these attacks will only continue to happen if and when journalists themselves let them happen. “It all depends on what kind of courage [you have],” she said. 

For Mangahas, the way to fight attacks against press freedom is to “care less” about Duterte, and do better journalism instead.  

“The master and use of all the work we do is the public,” she said.

Mangahas added: “ I think we should care less about Mr Duterte – he could continue to rant and berate and criticize – but the point is not to be affected by him. The point is to continue believing, to actually be more bold in doing the work that we do, because the greater principle of press freedom is the people’s right to know.” – Rappler.com

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