Media and journalism issues

PH task force on media security’s efforts not enough, says UN’s Khan

Jairo Bolledo

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PH task force on media security’s efforts not enough, says UN’s Khan

VISIT. UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan holds an exit press conference in Mandaluyong City, as she concludes her official visit to the Philippines on February 2, 2024.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

United Nation Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan also emphasizes: Media killings should be considered work-related until proven that they are not

MANILA, Philippines – United Nation Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan found the efforts of the government’s task force on media security lacking.

Asked about her assessment on Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS), created under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s term, Khan noted that the Philippine task force has no proper system in the context of protection or prevention of attacks against Filipino journalists.

“There are ad hoc efforts. [The] PTFOMS has made individual demarches in a few cases. [The] PTFOMS has tried, has sent out a circular to police stations asking the police public information officers to play the role of media security vanguard, I think it is called. But that’s not enough, and I’m talking from experience in other parts of the world,” Khan said in her press conference on Friday, February 2.

PH task force on media security’s efforts not enough, says UN’s Khan

In the Netherlands, which ranked high in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index at 6th place, Khan said law enforcers were quick to probe media killings. The annual World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries in the context of press freedom, based on political, legal, sociocultural, economic, and media safety factors.

Khan said there was an instance where a journalist was shot in the middle of the day, on the street in the Netherlands, and within seven days, the person tagged in the crime was already arrested.

But even countries like Mexico and Honduras – considered hazardous to journalists – have more efforts and mechanisms to ensure media protection, said Khan. Mexico and Honduras ranked 128th and 169th respectively in the 2023 press freedom index. Philippines was at No. 132.

“So there is a lot more. It has to be systematic, institutionalize, resourced properly, and as journalists, you have to feel confident about approaching that protection mechanism,” Khan said.

A complicated relationship

Some Filipino journalists have complicated relationships with the government – and that extends to law enforcers and to the PTFOMS, as well.

Khan took note that some Filipino journalists have reservations to seek the help of the police when they were attacked or harassed: “From what I’ve heard, many journalists are actually afraid of the police, they’re afraid of the security system. So asking you to go to the same police that may have tagged you or charge, make false charges against you, is not going to work.”

Even the example of PTFOMS’ effort mentioned by Khan, where the task force sought police’s help, drew flak when it was implemented. After the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid in October 2022, police personnel started visiting the addresses of some journalists to reach out to them, “especially those who have been receiving threats.” Some journalists raised concerns because of the police presence in their private space.

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There were also instances where law enforcers themselves red-tagged some journalists. Law enforcers also arrested red-tagged journalists, like in the case of Lady Ann Salem and the still detained Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

Some media groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also questioned some of the PTFOMS’ moves. The NUJP slammed PTFOMS chief Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez back in January when the latter red-tagged Cumpio, labelling her “an active participant” of the communist armed struggle.

The Altermidya Network, where Cumpio was affiliated, condemned the red-tagging. The network released a strongly worded statement detailing Cumpio’s contributions as a community journalist, dispelling the allegations thrown at her.

Khan’s disagreement

After their meeting with Khan, the Department of Justice said the PTFOMS told the special rapporteur that not all media killings have a direct link to press freedom because some of these cases involved personal issues. Khan disagreed.

For the UN special rapporteur, the presumption should be, media killings should be considered work-related until it is proven that they are not.

“So you start with the assumption that if you’re doing a job where you are dealing with danger, dangerous information, that will hurt powerful interests, then the assumption is if something happens to you, that it happened because of your work,” Khan said. “Maybe, I’m not saying that there aren’t any other non-related cases, but the right approach to take is to investigate first and not make any assumptions.”

Earlier, NUJP secretary general Len Olea raised concerns over the government’s statement on media killing, saying that whether work-related or not, journalist killings “are not acceptable, and should not happen in a democratic society in the first place.”

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IN NUMBERS: Filipino journalists killed since 1986

IN NUMBERS: Filipino journalists killed since 1986

Based on the NUJP’s tally, at least 199 journalists have been killed since 1986. This number includes all journalists slain in relation to their job.

In terms of conviction of suspects, only 42 perpetrators were convicted out of 188, according to the NUJP Media Safety Office in 2020. The 188 reflected the number of journalists killed from 1986 to 2020. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.