Palace media security task force pushes free press promotion

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) called for the promotion of a free press on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, which comes days after the US State Department released a report stating that Filipino journalists still face harassment and threats of violence.

While the Philippines is dubbed as the “freest press” in Asia, various international groups have expressed concern over the risks that affect the Filipino journalists’ performance of their duties.

In its 2023 Country Report on Human Rights Practices released last week, the State Department said journalists in the Philippines continued to face harassment, threats and violence, including from politicians, government authorities and powerful private persons critical of their reporting.

Quoting observers and non-government organizations, the report said the “chilling effect” on public expression engendered under former president Rodrigo Duterte “continued at a lower level” under the Marcos administration.

International watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders noted fewer and less violent attacks on journalists in the first year of the Marcos administration, but several problems remained, it added.

The US State Department said “red-tagging,” the Filipino term for red-baiting or the labeling of human rights advocates, unions, religious groups, academics and media organizations as fronts for insurgents, persisted under the present administration.

The report also cited the concerns of some civil society groups about the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which they claimed was prone to abuse, such as physical and cyber attacks and the filing of cases against journalists.

“Media generally remained free, active and able to voice criticism of the government, despite the chilling effect caused by killings of and attacks on journalists, red-tagging and political and non-governmental pressure,” the country report added.

The PTFoMS has described the claim about the “chilling effect” on free expression as a “work of fiction.”

“This so-called ‘chilling effect’ is a work of fiction by certain quarters who have the habit of always seeing the glass half-empty and not half-full,” PTFoMS executive director Paul Gutierrez said in a recent statement.

The PTFoMS has also welcomed the report’s observation that there were fewer attacks on journalists during the first year of the administration of President Marcos.

According to the task force, the three incidents of media violence mentioned in the report – the killing of broadcaster Cris Bundouin on May 31, the attempted murder of photojournalist Joshua Abiad and the killing of broadcaster Percival Lapid in October 2022 – were all deemed solved with the identification, arrest and filing of cases against the suspects.

It has also expressed readiness to work with any group that could help address violence against Philippine media practitioners.

During the 50th anniversary celebration of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines last month, Marcos said the press must have the “untrammeled” freedom to do its work to arm the citizenry with the truth and to “deepen discernment in this age of mass disinformation.”

“Unlike many of my predecessors, I do not seek collaboration, for that implies a surrender of your independence. I am of the opinion that national interest is better served by a press that is critical rather than a press that is cooperative,” the President added.

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