Asked if he caused the February 13 arrest of Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had nothing to do with it, and that he did not “relish picking on her.” He also said he did not know Wilfredo Keng, whose complaint that he had been libeled by the online news site led to the Ressa arrest.
Some 21.9 million Filipinos, notes the National Anti-Poverty Commission’s Reforming Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy (Manila: NAPC Secretariat, 2017), are officially considered poor. But an additional 50 to 60 million more may also be in the same category “when other dimensions of poverty are considered.”
Those “dimensions” include low incomes, job insecurity, poor nutrition and health, limited access to education and medical care, substandard housing. To these uncertainties may be added, in the time of the Tokhang anti-illegal drugs and anti-“istambay” campaigns and TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act), the threat of losing a family breadwinner or a son and daughter, and record-breaking inflation. This means that poverty and uncertainty are the conditions of life for some 70 to 80 million Filipinos.
Four media-related events occurred within days of each other last week.
One was the release by the press freedom watch group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF — Reporters Without Borders) of a report on the troubled state of press freedom in many countries including the Philippines. RSF ranked the Philippines a low 133rd out of 180 countries.
Almost every government official has the same message whenever the birth or death anniversaries of the country’s heroes are marked: it is to remember what they did for the country, and to emulate their patriotism and devotion to the welfare and betterment of the nation.
On the 121st death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, for example, President Rodrigo Duterte told Filipinos to remember the national hero’s “ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our country,” and to “reflect on his patriotism as we strive to continue his work of building a more united, peaceful and prosperous Philippines.”
Apparently unique in the Philippine press freedom regime, the practice of appointed and elected officials’ serving as newspaper columnists, or as television or radio commentators, blurs the necessary distinction between the government as object of public scrutiny, and the free press’ critical function of monitoring government. It creates a conflict of interest between the government’s and its officials’ interest in getting favorable publicity, and the citizenry’s need for impartial reports and evaluations of events and issues of concern including government doings and policies.
May 3 was proclaimed in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly as World Press Freedom Day on the recommendation of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It has since been celebrated every year by journalists’ and media groups in over 100 countries, with UNESCO leading the commemoration.
World Press Freedom Day, says UNESCO, provides an opportunity “to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” The theme of the celebration this year is “Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age.”
SOME institutions in Cebu including the media are embroiled in the impasse between Malacanang and suspended Governor Gwendolyn Garcia. It has raised issues relevant to the media and the press, among them whether the suspension of the operations of a government-run TV station and the firing of a columnist of a newspaper owned by Garcia’s relatives are press freedom issues.
The Department of Interior and Local Government suspended Garcia last December for allegedly misusing government funds. Garcia claimed her suspension was part of the Liberal Party attempt to control the province in preparation for the May elections. She refused to vacate her office at the Cebu provincial capitol, triggering a crisis in that province that has affected government agencies like the police and a provincial government-controlled TV channel, and the local media, among others.
THEY’RE known as “public service programs” and have been in Philippine radio for decades, particularly after 1986, when the laws restricting the media were lifted. But they have proliferated in recent years, and every radio station includes at least one example in its programming, although that one may run several hours, in addition to the regular news and commentary programs.
The template is straightforward. The program host accepts complaints from listeners through phone calls and text messages as well as personal visits to the station, puts his phone conversations on the air, reads text messages and interviews complainants.
THE PHILIPPINE ranking fell from 122nd in 2009 to 156th in the Paris-based Reporters San Frontieres’ (RSF- Reporters Without Borders) 2010 Press Freedom Index released on October 20.
The 2010 Index covers the period September 1, 2009 to September 1, 2010. The Philippine ranking had been rising in earlier RSF Indexes, despite the continuing killing of journalists in the country, and its portrayal in 2003 as “the most murderous place in the world for journalists.”
BEFORE leaving for the United States to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, President Benigno Aquino III said during a press conference that he had the report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) released first to the Chinese government because he wanted to repair the country’s relations with China. He also said he hoped that the Report would “restore confidence that we know how to run our country and we had taken appropriate actions to prevent such (a) tragedy from happening again.”
The IIRC report was on the hostage-taking incident of August 23, which ended with eight Chinese tourists from Hongkong and Canada dead, the country’s relations with Hong Kong and China in shambles, and the media under intense criticism. Upon receipt of the Report, the Chinese government expressed its “appreciation” for the Philippine government’s “sincere and serious manner in handling and looking into the incident,” but asked for more time to study the document.