Threats vs media to be classified as poll offenses

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Threats vs media to be classified as poll offenses
Presidential Task Force on Media Security Executive Director Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez.
PNA / File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Threats, harassment, physical attacks and other forms of violence against members of the media during election period will be classified as election offenses under an agreement to be signed by the government’s task force on media security and the poll body by next month.

Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director Paul Gutierrez has disclosed that he and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Erwin Garcia are likely to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) classifying violations of media rights as election offenses “as early as next month.”

“Himself a former broadcast journalist, Chairman Garcia is keenly aware of the threats that our journalists face, especially during the elections when tensions are high,” Gutierrez said in a statement on the task force’s Facebook account last Friday.

He added that the Garcia is supportive of President Marcos’ commitment to create a safe environment for Filipino journalists.

“I am pleased to note of the good chairman’s offer to exercise the power of the Comelec to warn candidates, political parties and their supporters that any attempt to stifle the country’s press from performing its mandate during the election period would be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” Gutierrez said.

The PTFoMS also asked the Comelec to be part of the media safety summits it has been organizing all over the country.

The task force also committed to create a database of all election-related incidents involving media workers, while both sides will also form a reporting mechanism that will be used by the poll body in swiftly addressing incidents reported by the PTFoMS.

“Moving forward, we can view this MOA as an initiative that will send a strong message to the public and the international community that the Philippines is committed to protecting press freedom and upholding democratic values and creating and informed citizenry,” Gutierrez said.

During the celebration of World Press Freedom Day last May 3, Marcos said that journalists serve as the “strongest defense” against fake news and misinformation.

The Marcos administration has committed to defend press freedom, protect media workers and support journalists in their mission to fight misinformation and disinformation and malign influence.

In this year’s World Press Freedom Index by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Philippines fell two spots to 134th out of 180 countries.

In its country report, the RSF described the Philippines as “one of the region’s most dangerous countries for media professionals.”

While the watchdog noted that fewer “violent attacks” have taken place under the administration of Marcos, “harassment by means of threats and red-tagging persists.”

Red-tagging is the act of labeling people and organizations as rebels, terrorists and/or enemies of the state.

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