The Philippines: Dangerous for journalists

A protester in black displays a placard calling for press freedom during a protest with journalists in Manila on 19 January, 2018. (Ted Aljibe / AFP Photo)

Being a journalist has never been easy. Many of them work long hours, travel to faraway places and go through plenty of mud just to get a scoop. Not to mention the precariousness that comes with the unpredictability of the media landscape. Being a journalist in the Philippines however, is much more difficult. While the rest of the world might lament that the social media fuelled media landscape helps conceive fake news, some Filipino journalists face bodily harm, or worse, death, simply for trying to report the truth.

In many parts of Southeast Asia, journalists risk life and liberty while carrying out their duties. “Media is under increasing threat across Southeast Asia. It is abhorrent that brave journalists should have to put their personal freedom or even lives on the line when they are simply trying to do their jobs,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) board member, Teddy Baguilat, a member of the Philippines House of Representatives.

In the Philippines, it is just not drug-related criminals who face the risk of death, even journalists fall under the same threat. Based on a recent journalist death tally report by the International Press Institute (IPI), the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Reports show that 177 journalists and media workers have been killed there since 1986; 47 alone in the past decade. This places the Philippines among the top five states in the world with the poorest accountability records, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The other four states are Somalia, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan.

The Philippines is also where the 2009 “Maguindanao massacre” happened. The incident involved a convoy of six vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of Vice Mayor Mangudadatu that was attacked by 100 armed men. The incident left 58 casualties, with at least 34 of them journalists. To date, no one has been held accountable.

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

Media under Duterte

Before Duterte was elected to power in 2016, he made clear of what he thought of journalists. “Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a b****. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong,” Duterte said.

With this statement in mind, it is no surprise that freedom of press in the Philippines has not improved since he came into office. According to Reporters Without Borders, four journalists were killed in 2017, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists. Reporters Without Borders claims that these journalists are often killed by private militias hired by local politicians.

In 2018, the situation for journalists and the media space in the country does not seem like it has improved. In the first half of this year alone, media groups in the Philippines reported there were at least 85 cases of attacks and threats against press freedom, a number that “far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him.” There have also been three cases of murdered journalists this year.

Aside from that, in January 2018, authorities revoked the license of news website Rappler. Many observers believe Rappler’s license was revoked due to articles critical of Duterte. The attacks on Rappler did not just end there. The authorities recently charged the website and its president Maria Ressa with tax evasion.

The charges against Rappler has managed to draw outrage from organisations and journalists the world over.

“Rappler has distinguished itself with in-depth investigative reports into stories, such as extra-judicial killings, that have been highly critical of the government, and there’s every reason to believe the charges are politically motivated,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

The lack of protection given to journalists and the clamp down on organisations such as Rappler have caused a drop in the Philippines’ press freedom rankings. The country was ranked 133rd in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, dropping six places from last year.

Freedom of press plays a crucial role in ensuring the government of the day does not get away with abuses of power. In the Philippines, it is getting tougher by the day for the media to do their job.