Philippine media

With press freedom under attack, PH journos amplify call to fight back

Dwight de Leon

FILE PHOTO. Filipinos march in the streets in March 2021 to denounce attacks on press freedom.


'The presumption of regularity should be shattered. Journalists should automatically be cynical of what officials are telling [them], and it doesn't hurt to ask 10 follow-ups, even at the risk of being kicked out of a Viber group,' Rappler's Lian Buan says

Challenges that emerged amid the repeated attacks by the Duterte administration on Philippine media took center stage at the 2021 Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar, which saw eight seasoned journalists come together in a virtual forum to discuss best practices to uphold press freedom.

ABS-CBN News Channel anchor Christian Esguerra, one of the eight panelists, pointed out that not only did President Rodrigo Duterte become the biggest threat to the press, his existence also caused journalists to doubt their stories, and themselves.

“Over the past few years since he assumed office, this threat has morphed into something more serious and this concerns journalists more directly – the reality of self-censorship, of second-guessing ourselves,” Esguerra said on Thursday, October 14.

“Even if a story has been well-vetted, even if sources have been properly verified, there’s always this tendency on a good number of journalists to censor themselves,” he added.’s Franco Luna also underscored the difficulty of accessing information from the Duterte administration.

“The tendency to control the flow of information that journalists get in this pandemic is an implicit acknowledgment from government officials of the effect that good and people-centered journalism has in a democracy,” Luna said.

For Rappler senior reporter Pia Ranada and ABS-CBN’s Mike Navallo, there is an increasing challenge to convince audiences to disregard their biases against certain news organizations, to read stories that are accurate, factual, and well-researched.

“There’s now an iron wall that we need to penetrate. When social media users see posts from Rappler or ABS-CBN, they would automatically dismiss them as not useful, or misleading or false, or biased,” Navallo said.

“Duterte’s presidency highlighted a certain misunderstanding of media among Filipinos,” Ranada added. “When we see people who are easily swayed by arguments of the government, that when media writes negative news, [they think] we are working towards the destruction of the government.”

How to move forward

While problems for the media continue to pile up, the JVO panelists offered insights as to how newsrooms can ward off the attacks against press freedom.

For one, Camille Diola of Interaksyon suggested welcoming online content creators to the news community.

“They may not be professional journalists, but if we count them as part of the news media, or try to also seek accountability from them…we could also work with them about journalistic principles,” she said.

James Relativo of and ABS-CBN data analyst Edson Guido added there should be no harm in calling a spade a spade.

“For example, a politician releases a statement that spreads misinformation, but you are not part of his Viber group [to quiz him]. In your headline, you can say that he said ‘1 plus 1 equals 11,’ but also point out ‘but it’s actually 2,'” Relativo said in Filipino.

“With the advent of fake news and alternative facts, the storytelling now should be more nuanced, providing context, and not just a he-said-she-said style of reporting,” Guido said.

Rappler’s justice reporter Lian Buan also noted that journalists should not fall hook, line, and sinker for false statements of government officials.

“The presumption of regularity should be shattered. Journalists should automatically be cynical of what officials are telling [them], and it doesn’t hurt to ask 10 follow-ups, even at the risk of being kicked out of a Viber group,” she said.

Buan also said journalists should go beyond their echo chamber.

“[Audiences are] beginning to increasingly care about news as a way of checking good governance. I’d like to see if it goes beyond Twitter,” Buan added.

This is the second year that the JVO Seminar was conducted online amid the persistent threat of the pandemic.

The forum is named after the late Jaime V. Ongpin, a press freedom advocate during the Philippines’ Martial Law years under Ferdinand Marcos.

Aside from Buan and Ranada, previous seminar panelists from Rappler included Rambo Talabong, Michael Bueza, Natashya Gutierrez, and Patricia Evangelista.

All 2021 JVO Seminar panelists received P20,000 each and a certificate of recognition.

The CMFR did not award the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship this year, as the pandemic postponed the study tour of Esguerra, who was chosen for the program in 2020. –

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.