Media watchdog lists Duterte among world 'press freedom predators'

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Media watchdog lists Duterte among world 'press freedom predators'
File photo shows employees and supporters lighting candles at the gate as the ABS-CBN Corporation office in Quezon City shines the network's colors.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte was listed among world leaders who were noted for being "press freedom predators" in their states in a report by an international press freedom nonprofit. 

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a gallery that listed the chief executive among world leaders noted for "[trampling] on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them."

In its gallery, RSF pointed to what it said was "collusion at all levels within the state apparatus" in the Philippines, which afforded the president an "arsenal that he can use to wage 'total war' against journalists."

"The executive has enormous power centered on the president. Judges who don’t toe the line are pushed aside. Congress tamely endorses all the president’s decisions," its report read, calling "total war against independent media" the president's favored "predatory method." 

"Backed by most of the private sector, Duterte easily imposes his line on media outlets owned by businessmen that support him. Independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails."

According to RSF, this "arsenal" at the chief executive's disposal includes tactics such as:

  • spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion, or violation of capital legislation;
  • rescinding broadcast licenses;
  • getting accomplices to buy up media outlets and bring their journalists into line;
  • and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.

The media watchdog pointed to the buying of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. as examples of this, saying the president's "favorite targets" were "the last sources of resistance." 

More than a third or exactly 13 of the heads of state on the list come from the Asia-Pacific region.

Earlier, the Philippines fell two places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index for this year after it ranked 138th among 180 countries. The Palace downplayed this, saying the attacks against ABS-CBN and news outlet Rappler "should have not led to the decline in our ranking."

President Rodrigo Duterte has made it clear he has an ax to grind with critical media. The tough-talking head of state himself earlier said he would see to it that the news network's franchise would not be renewed, a threat he later made good on.

“I'm not threatening them but someday their karma will catch up with them," he was quoted as saying in March 2017, a pronouncement RSF noted.

At his inauguration in 2016, the president also said: "Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch." 

The president's words have historically held sway in the lower chamber of Congress, where he has a supermajority.

Duterte's government, particularly the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, continues to reject the notion of weakened press freedom, asserting that press freedom is not only "alive and well" under his rule but also “has generally improved since 2009, especially after President Duterte came to office.” 

"Our message to the media is if there are harsh criticisms against the president, sometimes, the president also comes up with a harsh response," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said earlier this year in response to the country's drop in the World Press Freedom Index. 

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