‘Duterte-media’s tense relations worsened in 2018’

Artemio Dumlao - The Philippine Star
�Duterte-media�s tense relations worsened in 2018�
In its yearender titled “Let us unite to defeat the growing threats to press freedom,” NUJP national officials said 2018 proved to be “one of the most challenging for independent Philippine media.”

BAGUIO CITY  , Philippines  —  President Duterte and Filipino journalists’ “tense relations” took a turn for the worse in 2018, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

In its yearender titled “Let us unite to defeat the growing threats to press freedom,” NUJP national officials said 2018 proved to be “one of the most challenging for independent Philippine media.”

“Yet it has also been a year of affirmation,” they added.

This year, the already tense relations between the media and the Chief Executive took a decided turn for the worse, the NUJP said, citing the January decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to revoke the license of online news outfit Rappler, one of three media companies allegedly “singled out for vicious verbal attacks and threats, for allegedly violating the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of mass media as well as the Anti-Dummy Law.”

Although the case remains on appeal, Duterte increased the pressure on Rappler “by banning its Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada from the Palace and from covering all of his functions,” the NUJP said. The ban was later reportedly extended to include all Rappler correspondents and contributors.

Rappler and its chief executive officer, veteran journalist Maria Ressa, by yearend were facing multiple tax evasion cases lodged by the Department of Justice and Bureau of Internal Revenue, charges that both local and international media and free expression groups have denounced as “politically motivated” and part of efforts to silence the news organization for its critical reportage of a President who cannot stand criticism and dissent, the NUJP cited.

The journalists’ group believed that Duterte also stepped up his attacks on broadcast network ABS-CBN, “repeating threats to block the renewal of its franchise,” which expires in 2020.  

The NUJP also highlighted the continued murder of journalists, beginning with the April 30 killing of Edmund Sestoso in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, followed by – just days after then presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed, on World Press Freedom Day on May 3, that media killings had gone down under Duterte – Carlos Matas of Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur on May 12, Dennis Denora of Panabo, Davao del Norte, and Joey Llana of Daraga, Albay, who died on July 20, just days before Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address.

The four brought to 12 the tally of journalists slain under Duterte and to 185 since 1986, the media organization said.

Communications Undersecretary Joel Sy-Egco, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, cited that last October, however, the country was named by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as one of the countries with an improved status in its 2018 Global Impunity Index.

Last December, the Philippines was taken off the list of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of the Top 5 deadliest countries in the world for journalists in 2018.

Still, the NUJP believed that “the open hostility of an admittedly still popular President who considers media’s scrutiny of his governance, or lack of it, as a personal affront has led to a significant spike in threat levels and harassment of media practitioners, especially online, where journalists are constantly bashed by trolls, bots and Duterte supporters.”

“This administration that practically revels in insulting what it calls ‘presstitutes’ also employs paid hacks and propagandists who amplify its messages of hate in newspaper columns, the airwaves and social media, often also using these venues to send prompts to launch concerted attacks on critics or attempts to drown the truth in a flood of lies,” the union further claimed.

At least 99 attacks and threats against the press from July 1, 2016 to Oct. 31 last year were documented, according to documentations by media groups.

“But these numbers are most likely way below the actual count since many incidents, especially of online harassment and threats received, go unreported,” the NUJP said. 

 Internal threats

Aside from external threats Filipino journalists have to deal with, NUJP said there are also the insidious and mostly unrecognized internal threats, especially the worsening work and welfare conditions for media workers as contractualization increasingly becomes the norm in many workplaces.

“This problem has had adverse impacts not only on professionalism and ethics but also on safety and even the quality of journalism,” it said.

“Filipino journalists have stood up to the threats and challenges, jealously refusing to relinquish their independence and continuing to deliver information to the people,” it added, likening the situation to colleagues who defied the Marcos dictatorship’s efforts to silence the truth.

The yearend report described many journalists as having focused on covering the current administration’s excesses as a means of record-keeping and assigning accountability.

“The dedication and resilience of Filipino journalists have earned the respect and recognition of their peers around the world,” the NUJP said, citing notable awards accorded to photojournalists and Reuters for their tireless documentation of Duterte’s war on drugs, the press freedom award for independence given by RSF to former NUJP chair Inday Espina-Varona and Maria Ressa’s awards and inclusion in the “Guardians,” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2018.

“These awards are as much a recognition of independent Filipino journalists’ courage and dedication as they are testaments to their recipients,” the group said.

“More than awards and international recognition, however, the real validation of the Filipino journalists’ efforts to uphold the truth can be seen in the growing number of our people who are pushing back against a government that has wantonly violated their basic rights and liberties,” it reiterated.

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