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Press Freedom Day: Big Tech urged to probe online attacks on Philippines journalists

Angelica Y. Yang - Philstar.com
Press Freedom Day: Big Tech urged to probe online attacks on Philippines journalists
In this Jan. 19, 2018 photo, a protester displays a placard calling for press freedom during a protest with journalists in Manila.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign correspondents working in the Philippines on Tuesday urged social media platforms to investigate online attacks their colleagues have endured during the campaign season.

In a statement marking Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, May 3, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines identified the social media harassment and threats as coming from supporters of presidential candidate and survey frontrunner Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

"We call on companies behind social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook (Meta), Instagram, Google and YouTube to investigate these attacks as possible coordinated behavior and how provocative content by pro-Marcos personalities endangers, smears and incites hate and possible attacks on independent journalists," FOCAP said. 

It expressed grave concern over the attacks, citing three instances harassment. These include:

  • Washington Post Manila Correspondent Regine Cabato was called a "whorenalist." She also faced online attacks for a well-vetted story she wrote on historical revisionism;
     
  • BBC correspondent Howard Johnson's was subjected to a barrage of online abuse—with a supporter threatening that someone will "slash his neck for besmirching the Filipino's reputation"— after he asked on film how Marcos Jr. can be a good president if he does not allow "serious interviews."
     
  • When senatorial bet Larry Gadon, an ally of Marcos Jr., posted an obscene and expletives-laden attack on South China Morning Post journalist Raissa Robles after she tweeted about the presidential bet's past tax conviction. 

It has also been difficult for journalists to reach Marcos Jr. and his campaign team for answers on longstanding issues and controversies, FOCAP said.

"He has not submitted himself to a free-flowing, open and uncensored press conference during the entire campaign like most other candidates and has stayed away from independent but potentially critical debates and interviews, including those organized by the Commission on Elections," it said. 

His media relations team, moreover, has still accredited news staffers from over a dozen FOCAP news agencies, and does not regularly reply to inquiries, requests for comment, and permissions for use of materials, according to the group.

It added that there are incidents when reporters have been roughhoused while trying to get close to him in his campaign trail. 

"All these restrictive actions undermine a critical and free press in an Asian bulwark of democracy and have sparked fears of how independent media would be treated under another possible Marcos presidency," FOCAP said. 

While expressing its grievances about how the Marcos campaign treats journalists, FOCAP said it maintains a non-partisan stance in the May 9 elections.

Human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, sees a possible Marcos-Duterte administration as posing further threat to the practice of independent journalism in the country.

"How Marcos Jr. banks on an active campaign of grand historical lies and historical revisionism, of fake news and distorted facts, of shutting down criticism and opposition, is only the tip of the iceberg of what a Marcos-Duterte presidency can do—even without a declaration of military rule—to perpetuate power," the group said in a statement Tuesday.

The tandem, carrying a slogan of "Unity," has run a campaign proposing a broad continuation of policies of the Duterte administration. It was in recent years that ABS-CBN, the largest broadcaster, was shut down, prompting an international media watchdog to brand Duterte, father of vice presidential candidate Sara, among the world's "press freedom predators."

Beyond the May vote

Even as groups raised the alarm, the outcome of the May elections, for the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, will not decide the resolve of independent journalists. 

"The NUJP marks World Press Freedom Day with the determination that the community of independent journalists will not rise or fall on the outcome of May elections, that the work we do will continue whoever is in power," it said in a statement. 

It stressed that journalists, in recent years, have learned to support and stand for each other and are closer to the spirit of collaboration and solidarity. 

"As much as it has been true in the past six years, we recognize that the best way forward in difficult times is together and that our best source of support is each other and the people we report for," it said.

2022 ELECTIONS

BONGBONG MARCOS

FOCAP

NUJP

SARA DUTERTE CARPIO

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