Philippines improves in press freedom index but still a 'difficult' country for journalists

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Philippines improves in press freedom index but still a 'difficult' country for journalists
Journalists from different groups stage a protest at UP Diliman in observance of the 30th World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2023.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines climbed 15 notches in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, but it continued to be among the world’s “most dangerous” countries for journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday.

The country ranked 132nd out of 180 countries, according to an annual report that was published on World Press Freedom Day. It placed 147th in 2022.

Despite the improvement, the Philippines obtained a score of 46.21, keeping it a “difficult” country for journalists.

“The Philippine media are extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment, since 2016, of journalists and media outlets that are too critical,” RSF said.

RSF: New admin 'loosened constraints' on media

In its report, the Paris-based media watchdog said the election of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as president in June 2022 was “very unsettling” for most Filipino journalists because of the reputation of his father, a former dictator who silenced and controlled the media during Martial Law.

But it noted the change of government “loosened constraints” on the media.

It added the acquittal of Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa in a tax evasion case is an encouraging development.

Despite these, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines stressed that many journalists are still facing threats, and that press freedom in the country remains fragile.

“Nearly a year into the Marcos Jr. presidency and as dominant media adjusts to reporting on an administration that is not openly hostile to the press, it is tempting to consider that maybe the situation for media workers has improved and will continue improving,” NUJP said.

NUJP documented 60 reported violations against journalists from June 30, 2022 to April 30, 2023. These include two killings—Rey Blanco and Percy Lapid, a popular broadcaster who criticized several government officials.

In the Philippines, journalists who do not toe the government line are tagged as rebels or supporters of the communist movement. Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who had been red-tagged and subjected to surveillance, was arrested in a Tacloban City raid in 2020.

“The slow pace of the case—especially in contrast with the quick resolution of other, more high profile ones—is a violation of her right to a quick trial and also deprives the communities on Negros Island that she used to report on and for,” NUJP said.

It added that policies blocking access to alternative news outlets Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have not been reversed. On World Press Freedom Day, Bulatlat reported its Facebook page has been restricted over alleged violations of community standards.

There are also moves in Congress seeking to penalize “fake news.”

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