PH drops anew in press freedom rankings

PH ranks 149 out of 180 countries – dropping from 147 in 2013 and 140 in 2012

AT A GLANCE. Reporters Without Borders ranks the state of press freedom across the world. Image by Reporters Without Borders

MANILA, Philippines – For the 2nd year in a row and against the backdrop of unsolved media killings and the President’s refusal to endorse the Freedom of Information bill, the Philippines dropped in press freedom rankings across the world.

Out of 180 countries surveyed by Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF)the Philippines ranked 149th in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index. It dropped even further from 147th in 2013 and 140th in 2012.

The results of the survey come two months after the killing of 3 media practitioners within just two weeks. (READ: Gov’t probes media killings)

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the government “acknowledges” the Philippines’ “slight decline” in the rankings. 

Coloma told reporters: “We are committed to pursue and prosecute assailants of slain journalists so that we may obtain justice for those who were killed in the practice of their profession. We will continue to ensure that there are no prior restraints to the exercise of press freedom. This is in keeping with the spirit of EDSA People Power as we commemorate this month the 28th anniversary of the struggle that ensured the triumph of democracy over dictatorship and martial rule.”

Factors

In this year’s press freedom index, armed conflicts and abusive surveillance practices were some of the major factors that contributed to the repression of press freedom. 

Even countries known for being democratic suffered drops in rankings. The United States (46th) fell 13 places due its handling of the trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom dropped 3 places to 33rd due to the ” disgraceful pressure it put on The Guardian newspaper and its detention of David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner and assistant, for nine hours.”

“Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries,” RSF said.

Meanwhile, Finland, Netherlands and Norway continued to top the survey, while Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea again placed last.

FOI, Ampatuan massacre

The index ranks countries based on the following criteria: 

  • pluralism or options presented to the media
  • media independence or the degree to which media are able to function independently of authorities
  • environment and self-censorship
  • legislative framework or the quality of legislative framework and its effectiveness
  • transparency
  • infrastructure

However, the report did not specify what contributed to the Philippines’ low rankings. 

The Philippines hit its lowest ranking in the World Press Freedom Index in 2010 after the November 2009 massacre of 58 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in November. At least 32 journalists were killed in the incident. Four years after, the case remains unsolved. 

In 2013, a total of 12 media practitioners were killed, according to data from Human Rights Watch

Meanwhile, the Freedom of Information bill is still moving at a snail’s pace in Congress. Although the bill is presently up for plenary debates in the Senate, the House of Representatives has yet to come up with a consolidated version of the measure. 

Both Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr have committed to pass the measure before the 16th Congress ends. However, President Benigno Aquino III has so far refused to certify the measure as urgent

Improvements

Countries, such as Syria (177th) and Iran (173) are still at the lowest end of the spectrum as conflict in the areas continue to curtail freedom of information. 

But there are also significant developments. Both Panama and Ecuador climbed 25 notches to 87th and 94th spots respectively, due to the declining trend of violence against journalists, direct censorship, and misuse of judicial proceedings. 

In South Africa, RSF said its president refused to sign a law that would have endangered investigative journalism, pushing the country to climb 11 places to 42nd.  – Rappler.com 

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