Home | Letter to the Editor | Protecting journalists, protecting democracy

Protecting journalists, protecting democracy

Statement

CMFR (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility) takes exception to  President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s statement, made during his May 31st press conference in Davao City,  that most of the journalists who have been killed  in the Philippines for their work were slain because they’re corrupt.

While corruption is undoubtedly a continuing problem in the press and media, journalists have been killed for other reasons, among them for exposing corruption in government, as in the case of Tacurong City journalist Marlene Esperat, or for their advocacy in behalf of environmental protection, as in the case of Puerto Princesa’s Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega.  Some have also been killed for exposing anomalies in local governments as well as for fighting criminality. A 2006 CMFR study in fact found that an overwhelming number of those killed since 1986 were exposing corruption and criminal syndicates in the communities.  Because a significant number of those accused of killing journalists are local officials, as well as police and military personnel, the killings also suggest that the slain had been successful in exposing official wrongdoing and collusion with criminal groups.

Nevertheless, CMFR has never discounted the possibility that some of the journalists killed since 1986 were corrupt, or had been irresponsible. But we have always held that no one deserves to be killed for either offense, and that, if a journalist has offended the subject of his reports or commentary, the latter has a number of options for redress, among them bringing the offense to the attention of the media organization concerned, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) or the Press Councils, or, as legal resort, the filing of a libel complaint before the courts. Since the KBP and the Press Council are hounded with failed responses, we have to acknowledge libel as a legitimate recourse even though we object to its criminalization.

President-elect Duterte was correct in saying that irresponsible, biased, paid-for reporting and comment do lead to a journalist’s being killed. But the killing of anyone is nevertheless still a crime, and it doesn’t matter whether the victim is a journalist or not.  Everyone, including journalists, is entitled to, and deserves the protection of the State. Far from suggesting that nothing can be done about the killing of journalists, we have made policy recommendations that could help to stop such violence, steps which call on law enforcement agencies to do a better job of protecting citizens and which could help to end the culture of impunity.

Although he has said in some instances that some of his statements are said in jest, it did not seem that he was joking in this instance.  CMFR hopes that the President-elect’s statements are not interpreted by those who would silence journalists for whatever reason–whether they feel they have been abused by the media, or whether they have something to hide from the public–as a license to kill journalists.

Was he still speaking as Mayor of Davao City, thinking only of the particular case of Jun Pala about which he has strong opinions? As President of the Philippines, Mayor Duterte would hopefully  be more circumspect. The killing of journalists is after all not something to be made light of, having earned the attention and condemnation not only of advocate organizations in the Philippines, but also of international press freedom watch groups, the United Nations and the European Community.

CMFR has established that 152 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1986.  This number is a stain on our claim as a democratic society and exposes our boast about press freedom in the country as a sham. Despite some of its practitioners’ admitted flaws, the killing of journalists cannot be dismissed simply as something that cannot be helped.

A democratically elected president must value the free press as essential to the democratic system that has elected him. Rodrigo Duterte, freely elected by the people, whose campaign relied on the free press to report his candidacy owes the Philippine press more than just this glib response. —Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

 

Reporters Outraged

REPORTERS Without Borders (RSF) is outraged by Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s comment yesterday (Tuesday) that corrupt journalists are legitimate murder targets and urges the Philippine media to boycott his press conferences until he issues a formal, public apology. RSF also calls for legal action against Duterte.

Duterte made his comments about journalists at the news conference he gave in the southern city of Davao (where he is mayor) to announce his future cabinet. He is due to take office as president on 30 June.

Asked what he would do to combat impunity for crimes of violence against journalists (the Philippines being one of the world’s ten deadliest countries for media personnel), Duterte replied: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

Referring to corrupt journalists, he added: “Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” He also said that people who defame are not protected by the constitution from violent repercussions.

“Not only are these statements unworthy of a president but they could also be regarded as violations of the law on defamation or even the law on inciting hatred and violence,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“Duterte should nonetheless be pleased by the existence of these laws because without them he would also be exposed to violent repercussions, according to his own words. We urge organizations that represent the media to not overlook comments of this kind and to bring lawsuits. We also urge the media to boycott the Duterte administration’s news conferences until the media community gets a public apology.”

Elected president by a big majority on 9 May, Duterte is known for his provocative comments. In Davao City, he allegedly ran “death squads” (private militias) implicated in the execution-style murders of a more than 1,000 presumed “criminals” from 1998 to 2008.

Seven journalists were murdered in the Philippines in 2015 although, as a result of the prevailing impunity for crimes of violence against media personnel, it has only been possible to establish in three of the cases that the victims were killed in connection with their journalistic activity.

Respect for media freedom declined in 2015 in the Philippines, which is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom. —Reporters without Borders

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One comment

  1. CMFR’s findings should not be believed that journalists have been killed for exposing corruption in government. By its findings,it exposes CMFR to be bias and untruthful. Although there were journalists who were killed for really exposing corruption of government as their duty, about 2 or 3 of those who were summarily executed, the rest were killed because of media corruption—receiving payola or were in the payroll list of politicians hired to do the dirty job of exposing their political opponents’ corruption, whether imaginary or real. CMFR please don’t mislead the public by only telling portion and hiding portion of the truth.

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