World Press Freedom Day has always been the occasion for responsible journalists to re-examine the state of one of the fundamental needs of ethical practice. This year as in 2018, May 3rd was not so much an occasion for celebration as for alarm. As in many other parts of the world, the independent press is under siege from a government that has made it its life work to harass, restrict, threaten and silence it, and to even arrest practitioners for daring to report the truth.
World Press Freedom Day will be marked this year by journalists’ and media advocacy groups with trepidation in the context of the continuing attacks on press freedom by a government that obviously fears its power to expose official wrongdoing.
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.