Media in the Philippines hit back at Duterte

Duterte’s presidency quickly eroded press freedom in the Philippines. The media see the May elections as a chance to redress the situation.

Threats, attacks, “red-baiting” – even deaths: the Philippines is a dangerous place to be a journalist. Ahead of the May elections, journalists are working to restore public trust in the media after six years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s punitive populist rule. More than 400 journalists and 50 media outlets pledged to provide critical election coverage, uphold high standards of journalism, and stand together if “harassed by state agents, political parties, candidates or private groups.

Two fact-checking coalitions, Tsek.Ph and FactsFirstPH, sift through the election-related lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories that are invading social media platforms. Released before the start of the election campaign, the pledge represents the media’s attempt to reposition itself as a credible and authoritative source of information, having lost ground to trolls, hate speech spreaders and slanderers. other actors in bad faith who support Duterte. Multi-platform, multi-format fact-checking initiatives aim to counter a firehose misinformation strategy that uses various platforms, influencers, trolls, bots, and fringe media organizations to relay posts and stories. This strategy was seen in the viral outbreaks of misinformation that favored presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr (son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr) and his running mate, Sara Duterte (daughter of the current president). Red-baiting is a form of disinformation that alleges a connection – however unsubstantiated – between journalists or media organizations and the Underground Communist Party of the Philippines. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2020, such charges constitute a form of prior restraint on the media as they allow the government to favor one type of content over another.

Tech journalist Torres-Tupas was tagged red by a retired general in a Facebook post accusing her of potentially aiding terrorism due to her reporting on detained members of the indigenous community. The general also warned Torres-Tupas that her story could be used against her. When he was criticized by the media, he later apologized.

Frenchie Mae Cumpio, a community journalist in Tacloban City, Leyte, has been in jail since February 2020 and faces charges of possessing firearms and explosives allegedly as a Communist Party officer. Campion’s arrest followed red-baiting and surveillance by men on motorcycles without plate numbers – one of them boldly left a bouquet with his picture in their newsroom.

Cumpio was editor of Eastern Vista, a community newspaper, and presenter of the radio show Lingganay than Kamatuoran (Bells of Truth), both known for their reporting on social issues and human rights abuses.

Ineligible for re-election because presidents can only serve one term, Duterte said the country’s media can generally express a wide range of views and can operate without government restrictions. However, media monitoring groups note the erosion of press freedom and freedom of expression since 2016. The Philippines ranked 137 out of 180 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, down from two points compared to the previous year. It joins other Asia-Pacific countries whose laws and decrees have criminalized dissent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a national survey in 2021, 45% of respondents agreed it was dangerous to post anything critical of the Duterte administration, while just 25% said it was not. dangerous. Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media, Freedom and Accountability, provided an unpromising assessment of press freedom in 2021, saying she found “little hope”. The center has placed freedom of the press among the key concerns that must be addressed in the restoration of democracy.

Among Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom predators op-ed, Duterte has publicly stated that “just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean you’re not exempt from assassination.” His stance on the media has allowed aggression and distrust of journalists. Twenty-one journalists were killed in the line of duty and 208 cases of threats and harassment were recorded from June 2016 to November 2021. The online news site Rappler and the country’s largest television channel, ABS-CBN, were in the crosshairs of media restrictions and legal challenges after Duterte accused them of biased reporting and violations of labor, tax, foreign ownership and securities laws. ABS-CBN’s franchise was not renewed, forcing the network to shut down and more than half of its 11,000 employees out of work.

Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa face 11 charges ranging from cyber defamation and tax evasion to foreign ownership improprieties. Ressa was convicted of cyberlibel and is now appealing that conviction, but she saw the case as part of a plan to suppress independent media critical of Duterte. When Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, brought global attention to the fight for media freedom and human rights in the Philippines. Independent news sites have recently been the subject of takedown attempts by hackers. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has documented at least 11 cases of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks from October 2021 to March 2022 targeting media organizations such as Rappler, VERA Files, GMA News, ABS-CBN, CNN Philippines, several of the independent and community news outlets such as MindaNews, Mindanao Gold Star Daily and PressONE, and the alternative news site Bulatlat. The PCIJ noted that the attacks were election-related due to the timing and election-related content at issue.

Journalists have been criticized on social media for providing “partial” coverage of candidates, but candidates themselves can make it difficult for reporters to do their jobs – and also show disregard for journalists’ safety. Rapper Lian Buan was blocked and shoved by Marcos media officer and security personnel during a political rally.

Journalists began to challenge the government’s red-baiting and vilification of the media. Ressa recently filed an administrative complaint against Lorraine Badoy, spokesperson for the government’s anti-communist task force, for red-baiting. Badoy, an undersecretary for the Presidential Communications and Operations Officer, called Ressa a “spokesman for enemies of the state,” which Ressa says is not only false but also a violation of the code of conduct. conduct of government officials.

These institutional and legal challenges to Duterte only occurred in the last six months of his tenure, but they represent a wake-up call for the media in the Philippines. Journalists and media organizations have realized how quickly press freedom can be crushed. They may have been caught off guard or hesitant to take on the leading reporter whose populist rhetoric has drawn traffic to news sites, but the tide is turning. Together to maintain high standards and verify content online, Filipino journalists are working to create a healthier media landscape after Duterte.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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