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Duterte: Press freedom is 'vital in a nation’s vibrant democracy'

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte: Press freedom is 'vital in a nationâs vibrant democracy'
File photo taken during a rally calling for press freedom.
The STAR / Krizjohn Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte described press freedom as "vital in a nation’s vibrant democracy" as some sectors criticized what they called the censoring of journalists under his administration.

In a video greeting for the fifth anniversary of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, Duterte cited the role of the body in protecting the freedom and the rights of the press.

“The task force plays a crucial role in safeguarding press freedom that is vital in a nation’s vibrant democracy," Duterte said in a video message posted on the Facebook page of the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson Thursday.

“It also helps ensure that the rights and welfare of the press are well protected and upheld," he added.

The president also expressed hope that the task force would continue to fulfill its mandate "with utmost excellence and commitment.”

Duterte's statement came as he is drawing flak over the challenges that Filipino journalists face under his watch, which were highlighted after Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa was named one of the winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee described Ressa as "a fearless defender of freedom of expression" and lauded her for exposing what it described as the "abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism" in the Philippines.

Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque has congratulated Ressa for her award but maintained that press freedom is alive in the country.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has disputed Roque's claim, saying the press has been "under siege" under Duterte. The group cited the charges filed against Ressa, the arrest of journalist Lady Ann Salem, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, and the cyber attacks launched against Bulatlat, Kodao and the Northern Dispatch.

"That the media continues to report does not mean that the actions of the government have not created a chilling effect,"  the NUJP said in a statement. 

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