Media institutions defended a network of independent news outfits from government allegations it is a Communist “propaganda machinery.”
In a statement following a Senate hearing last week, the country’s most respected media institutions expressed support to the People’s Alternative Media Network (AlterMidya) and denounced the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s repeated allegations against the group.
“We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” the media organizations said.
The institutions include the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines Department of Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, MindaNews, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Philippine Press Institute as well as media outfits Rappler and VERA Files.
At the third hearing of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation on red-tagging last December 1, NTF-ELCAC executive director Allen Capuyan said AlterMidya outfits were part of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ “propaganda machinery.”
The media institutions however said Capuyan’s allegation is “a baseless blanket statement… provided without proof, presented as an out-of-context info-graphic, fraught with deadly consequences.”
“Red-tagging, especially without credible evidence of wrongdoing, is a devious form of disinformation. Other institutions red-tagged have been systematically harassed or demonized; other individuals, especially women, have been trolled, detained, assaulted, even killed,” the signatories said.
The institutions said the Altermidya network offers independent readings of national issues and events that a functioning democracy should welcome as part of a healthy pluralism in the public discourse.
“It is admirably committed to reporting on corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental issues, as well as the plight of farmers and workers. And some of its institutional members, including but not limited to Bulatlat.com and Northern Dispatch, have a well-deserved national reputation for high-quality journalism: hard-hitting, yes, but also rooted in the facts,” their statement said.
The media organizations said the AlterMidya network has done its journalism despite great risk, including death threats and a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
“We therefore view this latest act of red-tagging with the utmost concern. It renders these community journalists even more vulnerable to abuse and violence, at the exact time we need more of their journalism,” they said.
‘Small but courageous’
In an earlier statement, the NUJP called on fellow journalists and “all Filipinos who cherish freedom and democracy” to support AlterMidya “against the utterly malicious and clearly criminal red-tagging by security officials.”
The NUJP said the government’s “baseless accusations” against the alternative media are nothing new but the level of vilification from the Duterte administration through NTF-ELCAC indicates it is bent on silencing contrary views and voices to force conformity on the Filipino people.
The NUJP said the latest assault on the alternative media is similar to the silencing of ABS-CBN and the continued attacks on Rappler and other critical and independent news organizations.
The union said AlterMidya’s “small but courageous news outfits” play a vital role in serving the people’s right to know through reportage and analysis that provide fresh perspectives to often under-reported social issues.
These issues include land reform, human rights, the environment and injustice as well as oft-neglected sectors such as farmers, small fisher folk, the urban poor, laborers and indigenous people.
“The otherwise unheard or ignored voices they bring to the national conversation strengthen our democracy by helping shape a fuller, more accurate picture of our society, of our people.
This, of course, is what those who seek to impose their will on us fear most and why they seek to silence not only the alternative media but independent Philippine media as a whole,” the NUJP said.
“It has always been a matter of pride for the NUJP to have the alternative media with us and count some of their best journalists as leaders of the organization,” NUJP said.
‘Will not be muzzled’
Alternative news outfit Bulatlat.com in an editorial said it will not be muzzled by the government’s latest attempt to discredit independent journalism in the Philippines.
Bulatlat said President Duterte had been attempting to picture independent journalists as
“enemies of the state for exposing the administration’s gross human rights record, and lately its inefficiency in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of recent strong typhoons.”
“Our allegiance is to the truth. That such truth hurts those in power only affirms even more the relevance of independent and fearless journalism. We in Bulatlat will continue to perform our tasks, alongside our colleagues in the alternative and dominant media, because the Filipino people deserve no less,” the country’s oldest existing online news outfit said.
Mindanao’s Davao Today also said it is concerned with the “malicious and baseless attempt to taint the integrity of Davao Today in its role as the voice of the Mindanao community.”
“In a national landscape where dissenting voices are increasing and systematically silenced, independent and community-sourced bearers of information have become our last stronghold of democratic practice. Community journalism should flourish to serve the community as Davao Today has been doing,” the outfit said in a statement.
AlterMidya said it sees the latest attacks against itself and its members as a form of intimidation to force critical journalists into silence amid growing discontent among the people due to the Duterte government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AlterMidya said it will pursue legal action against NTF-ELCAC’s “malicious smear campaign.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)