MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines was dubbed as the deadliest peacetime country for journalists in Southeast Asia, according to this year’s Southeast Asia Media Report, as published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Friday, December 21.
The report is the first-ever IFJ Media Freedom Report for Southeast Asia with the Southeast Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU).
It also ranked the Philippines as the worst offender in media impunity in Southeast Asia because of its high number of media killings.
Using a country ranking system for both justice and impunity, nearly 1,000 media workers were surveyed to rate efforts of Southeast Asian governments and their justice systems to safeguard journalists from attacks and threats. The scale runs from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most positive score and 10 being the worst.
Due to threats to the press and the number of unresolved media killings in the country, the Philippines scored 7.7 out of 10 in the impunity scale of the report.
“There are no signs of any government willingness to stop the targeting of journalist and media organisations who believe this official apathy, or even open hostility, has fuelled a culture of impunity which has emboldened those seeking to silence the press,” the report said.
Despite the threats, the report also celebrated the resilience of Filipino journalists. “It was fiercely independent Filipino journalists who kept the flame burning when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut down the media in 1972 after declaring martial law… helping reveal the worst excesses of Marcos’ tyrannical rule.”
“Today’s journalists, besieged though they may be, remain just as jealously protective of their rights and freedoms. They also have the added benefit of strong professional organisations and support systems, as well as extensive international networks they can count on when push comes to shove,” it added.
Other countries that ranked in the impunity scale were Cambodia (6.1), Indonesia (7.4), Malaysia (6.3), Myanmar (7.5), Thailand (N/A), and Timor Leste (4.1).
Poor wages and working conditions served as dominant threats to journalists in the region. Other key threats involved censorship, legal issues, cyber attacks, and targeted attacks because of their work. Physical safety and impunity also remained as the main concerns of journalists in the region.
12 killed under Duterte
According to the report, 12 journalists have been murdered under President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership.
Eleven of them were killed before Duterte’s second year in office – the highest number of journalist murders in the first two years of any Philippine president, the report said.
Even after the Ampatuan massacre in 2009, which became the single deadliest recorded attack on the media worldwide, there has been no let-up in media killings in the Philippines.
The total number of journalists murdered since 1986 now stands at 185, according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJP). This made the Philippines the “deadliest peacetime country for journalists” in the report.
The report mentioned that only 17 of the media killings since 1986 have been partly resolved, with most of the perpetrators being hired hitmen. Even in the Ampatuan Massacre, none of the accused have been convicted, 9 years after the carnage.
Aside from media killings, there are also government attacks on the workplace, as President Duterte threatened to shut down news organizations that criticized his administration. Among these were the threats to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, and the filing of tax evasion charges against the family that owns the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Rappler also faced the brunt of these threats, as the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked its license to operate for allegedly violating a foreign ownership ban stipulated in the Constitution. While the Court of Appeals already issued a ruling that did not uphold the SEC’s order, Rappler reporters are still banned from covering events of President Duterte.
Just recently, the administration filed 5 separate tax charges against Rappler’s CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa, ironically around the same time that the Bureau of Internal Revenues named Rappler as among the country’s top withholding agents.
Online, Filipino journalists also face cyber attacks and trolling. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)
Three major Philippine media groups – the NUJP, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility – wrote a report that identified at least 85 cases of assault on the media under the Duterte administration from June 30, 2016 to May 1, 2018.
The cases included murders, attempted murders, death threats, online harassment, police surveillance, and the revocation of operating licenses. (DOCUMENTARY | Fake news in the Philippines: Dissecting the propaganda machine) – Rappler.com