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Grotesque

The Philippines dropped another two notches in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index drawn up by Paris-based media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

With a global score of 45.64, the country dropped to 138 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index that is based on questionnaires sent to experts around the world, combined with data on abuse and acts of violence against journalists to form a picture that includes pluralism, media independence, self-censorship and other factors.

The RSF cited the Duterte administration’s “grotesque judicial harassment campaign” against news website Rappler and its chief Maria Ressa as well as Congress’ denial last year of a fresh franchise for TV giant ABS-CBN.

“The persecution of media has been accompanied by online harassment campaigns orchestrated by pro-Duterte troll armies, which also launched cyber-attacks on alternative news websites and the site of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, in order to block them,” RSF said.

“Red-tagging also returned in force in 2020. This is a typically Philippine practice under which dissident individuals or groups, including journalists and media outlets, are identified to the police and paramilitaries as legitimate targets for arbitrary arrest, or, worse still, summary execution,” according to the RSF.

RSF said the global level of media freedom remained largely stable overall for the past year, but noted that the figures had deteriorated by 12 percent since the ranking was first launched in 2013. It saw falling trust in journalism, fueled by online polarization and misinformation as the primary reasons for the steady decline.

Malacañang downplayed and disputed the ranking, denying it had a hand in the harassment of Rappler and the death of the ABS-CBN franchise.

According to presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the country that used to be the bastion of press freedom in the region still fared better than Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. His advice to the Philippine media is they shouldn’t be onion-skinned when the President responds to criticism.

The steady decline in the country’s World Press Freedom Index ranking is no longer surprising, especially with a government that refuses to see it as a problem. Let us appreciate the challenges the members of the independent Philippine media have to face as they strive to fulfill their duties under an environment that sees nothing wrong in continually exerting grotesque pressure on reports that counter government’s propaganda efforts.*

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