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STATE OF PHILIPPINE MEDIA 2020: Journalists Struggle to Cover the Pandemic as Space for Media Freedom Shrinks

The shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network, is the latest in a series of attacks and threats against the Philippine press.

BY ANGELICA CARBALLO PAGO/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

MEDIA freedom and free expression have become casualties of the “war” against the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to severe restrictions on news coverage and economic difficulties for newspapers, media advocates said on Monday.

Members of the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All (FMFA) Network cited arbitrary arrests and a growing crackdown on dissent on social media amid enhanced community quarantine measures, in a virtual forum that tackled the annual “State of Media Freedom in the Philippines” report.

The forum was held a day after the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, and on the eve of the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network, by state regulators.

‘Not just a metaphor’

Speaking at the online forum, Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), noted that the government response to the pandemic has been depicted as a war.

“But that is more than just a metaphor because the military and police have been put in the frontlines as visible implementors,” de Jesus said.

‪International media watchdogs have noted that all over the world, the pandemic has restricted space for freedom of expression. The Philippines is no exception, with Congress passing Republic Act 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which gave President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to quickly respond to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The emergency law penalizes “fake news” under a general provision that is open to misinterpretation and abuse.

An example is the case of an overseas Filipino worker in Taiwan, Elanel Ordidor, whose deportation was sought by labor attaché Fidel Macauyag over a social media post criticizing the President. Taiwan has since rejected the request.

The forum also took note of accreditation measures imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Management of Emerging Infectious Disease, which have expanded bureaucratic control over the media.

Nonoy Espina, president of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said local governments were implementing their own media accreditation schemes, citing Negros Occidental province and Bacolod City.

“This added requirement affects how we gather and how we deliver news, because (if access to) information is controlled, it can be very difficult to do journalism,” Espina said.

During the open discussion, Pulitzer Prize winner Manny Mogato said: “One of the biggest threats to journalism is government propaganda when it hijacks the narrative of the public health crisis by making it appear it was doing a good job of responding to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Attacks on media

In the annual media freedom report, the CMFR and NUJP documented 61 incidents of threats and attacks against the press, including the deaths of three journalists, for the period January 2019 to April 2020.

The State of Media Freedom in the Philippines report also covered the release of the December 2019 ruling that convicted those behind the Ampatuan Massacre, which claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in November 2009.

MindaNews’ Antonio La Viña, former Ateneo de Manila School of Government dean, said the long-delayed court decision on what is considered the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists, was a “good ruling, with a lot of shadows — the role of political families in the Philippines that is linked to impunity.”

“We need to make sure another massacre will not happen again,” he said.

Apart from CMFR, NUJP and MindaNews, the FMFA network includes the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

An epidemic of experts

Tech entrepreneur and data ethics advocate Dominic Ligot, a member of the PCIJ board, urged journalists to counter Covid-19 disinformation by being on the lookout for politicization, “armchair epidemiology,” the mushrooming of experts, and the need for critical discourse.

Journalists, he said, should challenge experts and even question the assumptions underlying disease transmission models and projections.

“We are in an interesting time when everyone is in a physical lockdown and at the same time, everyone is wired up digitally,” he said.

For the first time, he noted, the public has been given access to a barrage of scientific and technical information on social media, pointing to numerous policy notes published on Facebook.

Ligot warned that journalists scrambling for expert opinion could contribute to disinformation by highlighting imprecise data or incomplete forecasts.

“We are in an environment where everyone is suddenly an expert,” he said.

Journalists need help, too

NUJP’s Espina also raised safety issues and economic difficulties confronting journalists, particularly freelancers and provincial correspondents, since the start of the lockdown.

“The biggest problem, especially for freelancers and correspondents working in small outfits, is the lack of support in covering the pandemic,” Espina said.

Espina said these journalists were left to pay for their own personal protective equipment, vitamins, and other out-of-pocket costs.

“One correspondent I have talked to said, ‘I have no idea if we’re getting a hazard pay,’ and the outfit that she works for made no mention about it,” he said.

The drastic cutdown in television programs and operations was also a huge blow to contractual media workers in the broadcasting industry who are usually under a “no work, no pay” arrangement, Espina said. With the crisis cutting on already falling revenues, closures and layoffs might be inevitable, he warned.

This was echoed by Ariel Sebellino, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute, who said that about half of the organization’s members, mostly family-owned community papers, have ceased printing due to economic losses caused by the lockdown.

“We must all get our acts together and respond to the needs of community journalists during this pandemic,” Sebellino said. “There must be a concerted effort to help improve the situation of our journalists in the provinces.”

Espina said he had received complaints from journalists who were unable to receive cash aid from the government’s Social Amelioration Program, the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) of Department of Labor and Employment, and other forms of government assistance, because of misconceptionsthat media workers were making a lot of money.

An overlooked aspect is the pandemic’s toll on the mental health of journalists who are, in a way, also frontliners in the Covid-19 response, Espina said.

“None of us is immune to the fear and uncertainty that the pandemic brings,” Espina said. “We need to recognize that we are not superman. We need to take care of ourselves.”— PCIJ, May 2020

Int’l and local media groups call for Tacloban journalist’s freedom amid COVID

Media organizations worldwide are calling for the release of Tacloban-based reporter Frenchie Mae Cumpio and other jailed journalists throughout Asia amid the sweeping coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter dated April 27, 74 organizations called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong to release imprisoned journalists in response to calls from various quarters to decongest and prevent coronavirus contagion in jails.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) began a campaign on March 30 called #FreeThePress, launching a petition and publishing an open letter to world leaders urging the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for their work.

“Given that a staggering number of these imprisoned journalists are held in jails across the Asian continent, we are reiterating that call to your respective countries at this time of grave public health concern,” the letter reads.

The media and rights organizations said the release of the jailed journalists is in line with the protection of free press and the free flow of information at the current crucial times.

“For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care,” it adds.

According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted last December 1, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

As of March 31, at least five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam, according to CPJ research.

However, at least five more journalists have been arrested since December 1, including Cumpio in the Philippines, Sovann Rithy in Cambodia, Chen Jiaping in China, Gautam Navlakha in India, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in Pakistan.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michael Forst supports the call for the release of Frenchie Mae Cumpio (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao)

Cumpio, reporter and executive director of the community media group Eastern Vista and a radio host at Aksyon Radyo in Palo, Leyte was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by the police at a Church-owned property on allegations of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Cumpio’s colleagues and supporters said the police charges are not only trumped-up but ridiculous.

The letter, sent electronically to the said heads of state, was signed by 74 media, press freedom and human rights organizations, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression without interference and the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” the letter notes.

It further cites the World Health Organization: “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

World Press Freedom Day 2020: Let us remain free

By The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)

May 3, 2020

As in years past, we observe World Press Freedom Day more for the lack than the reality.

Today, we see the existing space for freedom of the press and of expression narrow even more not only because of the inevitable changes in the way we do things but also, if not more so, from authorities’ uneven and often arbitrary implementation of the law and of measures ostensibly supposed to keep us safe.

Just as bad, feedback from colleagues on the ground indicate that most, especially freelancers and correspondents in the provinces, as well as those who work for small outfits, have been basically left to fend for themselves in covering the pandemic. While there are commendable efforts by some colleagues to help others, these are admittedly not enough.

And this is just physical safety.

Although there is a growing recognition of stress and trauma as part of the risks journalists face, aside from the peer support network initiated by NUJP and programs set up by other media groups and the larger media outfits, there are hardly any readily available and sustained support systems for colleagues experiencing mental health issues.

Meanwhile, like so many in the national workforce, contractual media workers, who are covered by “no work, no pay” policies, face uncertainty as their outfits cut down on production or cancel programs. And colleagues have voiced fears of widespread job cuts should the crisis drag on and cut deeper into already falling revenues.

Governments, both national and local, have been quick to impose unreasonable accreditation requirements before journalists are allowed to cover, infringing on the prerogative of media houses to assign tasks for their personnel and devaluing press credentials. This has also led to the arbitrary denial of accreditation to media outfits and journalists such as the alternative press.

While safety concerns admittedly underpin the shift to “virtual” press briefings, concerns have been raised that this gives less than transparent officials too much opportunity to control information, especially given reports that, in some places, questions are pre-screened.

In the midst of all these, there has been no letup in government efforts to intimidate and silence critical media.

The NUJP has continued to be “red-tagged” by government agencies and officials, accused, without any proof, of supposedly being a “legal front” of the communist rebel movement.

And on May 1, Labor Day, four community journalists and three other media volunteers were among the more than 40 persons arrested by police in Iloilo City after they prevented a caravan to protest the murder of activist Jory Porquia.

This crisis is unprecedented and no one knows when it will end or even begin to ease up.

Amid the uncertainty, the community of independent Filipino journalists should strengthen our unity to protect our ranks and resist efforts to exploit the emergency to clamp down on our fundamental rights and liberties.

Let us reject any attempt to control or impede the free flow of information to the people.

Let us continue to serve the people through our work.

Let us continue to be free.

Mabuhay ang malayang pamamahayag at pagpapahayag!
Mabuhay ang malayang mamamahayag ng Pilipinas!

#WorldPressFreedomDay2020

South East Asia: Too many journalists targeted for simply doing their job

Journalists directly targeted for attack by public or private individuals is the primary threat for media workers in South East Asia with far too many facing arrest or detainment for simply for doing their jobs. Today, on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) launch the preliminary findings of the 2019 annual survey of journalist working conditions in the region and call on governments and authorities to do more to enhance the safety of journalists in South East Asia.

The survey, which is the second collaboration of the IFJ and journalist unions in South East Asia, found that the single biggest threat to the safety and security of journalists was their working conditions. The survey delves into the issues impacting journalist safety and working conditions on the region as a whole, as well as taking a focused look at the situation on the ground for media workers in the seven SEAJU member countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste.

The survey of 1,265 journalists also revealed that one in two journalists had felt insecure in their jobs in the past year. Noted key threats were physical random attacks by members of the general public, threats to journalists’ families or others close to them, and poor working conditions.

The survey also showed that 38% of journalists felt that the media freedom in their countries had worsened or seriously declined in the past 12 months. Impunity for crimes against journalists was seen as a major problem or considered to be at epidemic levels in the region.

Government and political leadership were the two biggest determinants of impunity for crimes against journalists, while the prevailing poor performance of the criminal and civil justice system to deal with such threats and acts of violence against journalists was a major contributing factor. Full results of the survey and an in-depth report will be released later this month on November 23, the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

Ten years on from the massacre of 58 people including 32 journalists in Maguindanao in the Southern Philippines, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. This year, the Philippines is one of the five countries that IFJ is giving focus to in its global campaign to end impunity.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the IFJ’s Philippines affiliate, has launched a month-long campaign and commemoration of the massacre. #

The chairperson of the NUJP, Nonoy Espina, said: “While a verdict on the Ampatuan massacre would be most welcome, it would not ensure complete justice with many of the suspects remaining at large after a decade, and still hardly make a dent on the dismal record of 186 journalists’ murders in the Philippines since 1986, all but a handful of which have been solved.”

In Indonesia, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, Abdul Manan, said the survey is a brutal reflection of the violence journalists face day today. Ironically, the authorities that should be protecting journalists are the perpetrators of too many assaults.

“We should not stop increasing our efforts to push the government to ensure the safety of journalists. We demand the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and end the culture of impunity not only to Indonesian government but also governments in the region, including Philippines,” Manan added.

The IFJ said: “Attacks on journalists are attacks on our freedom. Together with our South East Asia affiliates, today we call the authorities to take urgent action and ensure the freedom and safety of journalists and end all attempts to silence journalists.”

Interviewing 101

By Luis V. Teodoro

Journalism students should look at government radio’s Erwin Tulfo’s reaction when he failed to immediately get an interview with Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rolando Bautista — he threatened to slap the retired Army general and even called him crazy — as an example of how those seeking interviews should never behave.

Tulfo’s behavior was one more demonstration of how some of those in the media are so entitled that they think that anyone asked for an interview should consider it a favor.

Those practitioners with some training in the ethical and professional standards of journalism know that it’s the interviewee who’s doing the interviewer a favor, and that he or she has a right to set the terms of the interview or even reject it altogether.

And yet it isn’t the first time that an interviewer displayed his arrogance  in public and over the air. In 2013 GMA7’s Arnold Clavio berated the lawyer of accused plunderer Janet Napoles for refusing to answer questions about a Napoles case he was unfamiliar with. But only such blatant examples of interviewer arrogance have attracted public attention. There are other instances involving relatively unknown people whom interviewers berated and even made fun of.

It is behavior like this that has eroded media credibility, and made attacks against the entire press of no concern to much of the public, even if only a few practitioners have been so ethically and professionally challenged that they see nothing wrong with accepting bribes or positions in government while continuing to write opinion columns.  

As besieged as they already are by the online trolls and old media hacks of the Duterte regime, the responsible sectors of the Philippine press have to address this problem either by distancing themselves from those elements in the media who’re debasing public discourse daily, or by themselves instituting, together with the better journalism schools, on the job training programs focused not only on skills enhancement but also on  the ethical and professional imperatives of responsible practice, or both.

Despite the release of detained Reuters reporters, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases:

Defamation case against The Irrawaddy

A defamation complaint was filed by the military’s Yangon Region Command against The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language editor U Ye Ni over the news website’s alleged unfair coverage of the armed clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy said it did nothing but report the escalating armed clashes in the region since the start of 2019. Here is U Ye Ni’s response to the case filed by the military:

I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people.

The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.

Jailed for satire

Meanwhile, five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe were sent to Insein prison to await trial for their satirical performance mocking the army. Thangyat is performance art similar to slam poetry featuring folk verses with traditional musical notes and is combined with song, dance, and chants. The group was charged with violating article 505(a) of the penal code which criminalizes the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause any military officer to disregard or fail in his duties.

Zeyar Lwin, one of the accused, said:

All of our cases are political issues so that they need to resolve them as political issues. And also, I’d like to say all of us need to join the work for amending the 2008 constitution being done in parliament. In my opinion all of these issues can be resolved if we can do the primary work of amending the constitution.

Zeyar Lwin is referring to the 2008 constitution which many analysts believe was designed to reinforce military rule even after the restoration of civilian leadership.

Sickly filmmaker in detention

The case of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi also reflects the restrictions imposed on critical artists. A complaint filed by a military officer against the filmmaker’s ‘defamatory’ Facebook posts led to his arrest. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival and a known critic of the military’s involvement in politics. His supporters are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds, since he has had half of his liver removed due to cancer and suffers from heart and kidney problems. The Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of 40 human rights film festivals around the world, sent this letter to the government:

As a concerned international human rights community, we seek reassurance from the Myanmar government to ensure that Section66(d), which was meant to enhance progress of telecommunications, will not be used to silence the voice of Myanmarese civilians seeking to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process in Myanmar.

The letter refers to the controversial Section 66(d) defamation law which has been used by authorities to charge critics, activists, and journalists.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s petition for bail was rejected by a local court. His next hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2019.

‘They should never have been jailed in the first place.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction last April with finality but they were released from prison after they were granted a presidential pardon during the country’s traditional New Year.

Groups like the Southeast Asian Press Alliance welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo but they also highlighted the injustice suffered by the two reporters:

They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.

While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check.

This article by Mong Palatino is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

CEGP honors NUJP’s Espina with MH del Pilar Award

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) awarded National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) national chairperson Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina its highest honor to its alumni at the start of the World Press Freedom concert in Quezon City last Friday, May 3.

In a special ceremony, the CEGP finally handed the award to Espina who was supposed to receive it during the Guild’s 77th National Students Press Convention at the University of the Philippines—Visayas (UPV) in Cebu City last March 9.

The awardee failed to attend the convention due to a family emergency.

The award, named after the journalist, patriot and hero Del Pilar, was given to Espina for being “a pillar of press freedom.”

“On top of his distinguished journalism career, the awardee is, without doubt, a leading force in the defense of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country today,” the CEGP’s citation, read by its secretary general Paula Sabrine Janer, said.

“As a multi-term NUJP director and now its national chairperson, the awardee steadfastly stands for these rights and leads his organization to their defense. Whatever prestige that the NUJP enjoys as a media organization here and abroad, it is owed in great part to our awardee’s leadership,” the Guild’s citation added.

Espina was a high school campus journalist in his hometome Bacolod City before becoming the editor of Pagbutlak, UPV’s college student publication in Iloilo City.

He was a member of the community media group Correspondents, Broadcasters and Reporters Association—Action News Service or COBRA-ANS of Negros Occidental that was part of the “Mosquito Press” that fought the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. He also became a reporter and editor of various local and national media outifts.

“[I]n honoring our awardee’s progressive, patriotic and disinguished career in journalism and for his principled and brave defense of press freedom and human rights in the Philippines, the CEGP awards this year’s Gawad Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award to a journalist worth emulating by student journalists everywhere,” the CEGP added.

NUJP national chairperson Nonoy Espina with his Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award trophy and certificate from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. (Photo by Lito Ocampo)

In his acceptance speech, Espina said he is just a journalist who stands by his profession.

“I realized the importance of our profession in democracy, in society. I came to love this profession when I saw for myself the real situation of the people, especially the marginalized,” Espina said.

He added that he does not see journalism as the people’s voice but a platform so their stories are told.

“I have come to love journalism because, in my three decades of being a journalist, people sometimes come up to me to thank me for writing about their struggles,” Espina said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Salute to integrity

April 26, 2019

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines salutes Felipe Salvosa II for his courageous display of journalistic integrity.

By openly protesting Manila Times owner Dante Ang’s insistence on publishing that malicious fiction about journalists and lawyers supposedly plotting to oust President Rodrigo Duterte, first by tweeting against it and resigning as managing editor of the paper, Mr. Salvosa has affirmed that journalism, is indeed, the profession of truth.

That he has done so at a time when the profession is under siege, not least by an administration that is the foremost purveyor of lies yet attempts to mask this fact by laying this charge on the critical press, is proof that the community of independent Filipino journalists values integrity and professionalism and will never succumb to pressure or blandishment to betray our calling.

Indeed, to borrow Mr. Salvosa’s words, the truly professional Filipino journalist seeks nothing more than to be able to “look our audience straight in the eye,” assured that we have served the people’s right to know faithfully.

The National Directorate

Digital Reality Bites: Alternative Media in the Crosshairs of Cyber Attacks

To mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) recalls the specific incidents when target news sites were forced offline

Alternative news organizations play a crucial role in informing the people about issues and concerns of public interest that are usually overlooked by the mainstream media. They provide a platform for voices in society that are conveniently ignored, or worse muted, by state and non-state actors alike.

It is precisely this role that makes these segments of the media prone to digital attacks, leading to their sites’ take down. Often, not just once but repeatedly.

Fiercely independent BulatlatKodao ProductionsPinoy WeeklyAlterMidya, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have found themselves in this conundrum, with little, if any, prospect of an end to their digital woes.

Cyber attacks have also targeted other news organizations, which are known for their independence and no-nonsense approach to their work, such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and VERA Files since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, prompting suspicions that their stories deemed critical of the policies of the current administration have triggered the online assault.

Since 2016, when Duterte assumed office, at least 10 cases of cyber onslaught against select news outlets have been documented.

A form of censorship, such attacks make information inaccessible to the public, thus undermining freedom of expression and the people’s right to know.

What is a DDoS Attack?

There are various cyber attacks that can be perpetuated against groups or individuals online. A common attack deployed against alternative news websites in the Philippines recently is the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.

But what is a DDoS attack?

In a nutshell, DDoS attacks, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “aim to make online resources temporarily or indefinitely unavailable by flooding them with so much traffic that their intended users cannot access or use them.”

Websites receive traffic from its users on a regular basis but DDoS attacks send unusual volume of traffic overwhelming its capacity until it can no longer be accessible.

“Attackers build their ‘army’ of computers by spreading malware through email, social media, and various websites. Once infected, these networks of computers (‘botnets’) are exploited without their owners’ knowledge to launch a DDoS attack against a target online service,” EFF said.

“DDoS attacks target a variety of services, ranging from banks and corporations to websites belonging to human rights organizations or political dissidents. As these attacks aim to prevent the publication of and access to information on target websites, they can constitute a form of censorship.”


SOURCE: “What is a DDoS attack?”, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Kodao Productions websites down

The websites of Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, and Pinoy Weekly were inaccessible on 26 December 2018. (Alternative news sites down in cyber-attack, 28 December 2018)

Pinoy Weekly, in a Facebook post, said their server informed them that the website was “temporarily suspended” as the high volume of traffic on the website was affecting other sites.


Screenshot of Pinoy Weekly Facebook post. 

While Kodao’s website was back up evening of 26 December, it was again inaccessible two days later, with its home page flashing this message, “the account has been suspended.”

In a statement, AlterMidya (a portmanteau of the words alternative and media) said: “Their websites were evident targets of distributed denial of service or DDOS attacks, which made the websites inaccessible since December 26. The shutdown of these websites apparently happened after the news outfits posted articles about the Communist Party of the Philippines’ 50th anniversary.” (Alternative media under siege, 28 December 2018)

Kodao Productions website hacked

The December 2019 hacking incident was not a first for the website of Kodao Productions under the Duterte administration. It was hacked on 6 February 2018. (Kodao Productions Website Attacked, 6 February 2018)

Kodao Productions, in a Facebook post, said their website was down since midnight of 2 February 2018. They said their site admins could not access the website.

The website went back online on 28 March 2018, nearly two months since the attack. Kodao Productions said the website suffered a “‘code injection attack’ that wiped out its files and prevented its online managers from logging in …” (Kodao website is back online, 28 March 2018)

“Its last stories were about the arrest of National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Rafael Baylosis and companion in Quezon City before the attack.”

Bulatlat website attacked again

Bulatlat’s website went down again after receiving continuous DDoS attacks from 19 to 29 January 2019. ([Philippines] Cyber attacks continue against alternative news website, 30 January 2019)

“This is yet another attempt to infringe on press freedom and the people’s right to information,” Bulatlat said in a Facebook post.


Screenshot of a Bulatlat Facebook post.

Bulatlat has received support from the Sweden-based group Qurium Media Foundation, which has been helping alternative news organizations monitor and mitigate the attacks. (Alternative news agency from Philippines ‘Bulatlat’ under denial of service attack)

AlterMidya website down after DDoS Attack

AlterMidya (People’s Alternative Media Network), “a network of independent and progressive media outfits, institutions, and individuals,” in a Facebook post on 8 February 2019, said “AlterMidya website down. We admins say this is caused by DDoS attacks similar to what Bulatlat and Kodao Productions experienced in past weeks.”


Screenshot of AlterMidya Facebook post.

Qurium Media Foundation confirmed through a Twitter post the cyber attack against AlterMidya:


Screenshot of Qurium Media Twitter post.

NUJP Website Attacked

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has also been the subject of cyber attacks under the Duterte administration. On 9 January 2017, NUJP’s website was inaccessible due to a “massive denial of service” attack. (NUJP Website Attacked, 10 January 2017)

NUJP said “whoever are responsible for this attack are enemies of press freedom and of free expression.”

Its website was again briefly inaccessible twice on 8 February 2019 following a DDoS attack that  happened at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The site was back up later, at 8:30 p.m.

“We believe the attack on NUJP site is related to the ones launched against Bulatlat and alternative news sites Kodao Productions and AlterMidya, all of which host NUJP chapters,” NUJP said in a statement. (Cyberattack downs NUJP website twice, 11 February 2019)

On 11 February 2019, NUJP’s website was down twice again after it was hit by DDoS attacks. The first one was recorded between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and was restored that same morning. Another attack was recorded mid-afternoon; the website was back online at 4:15 p.m. (DDoS attacks on NUJP, alternative media continue, 11 February 2019)

“According to the initial report of our security auditors, the attackers’ most requested URL path is https://nujp.org/?s=duterte, a page that appears when keyword ‘Duterte’ is searched on the website,” NUJP said.

“We strongly believe this is part of an orchestrated campaign to silence critical outfits and organizations … (it) has also targeted alternative news sites such as those of our affiliates, Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, AlterMidya, and its latest target, Pinoy Weekly,” NUJP said.

PCIJ Website Hacked

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) said in a 29 July 2016 Facebook note that their website (http://pcij.org) and blog site (http://pcij.org/blog) were hacked and were thus inaccessible. (PCIJ Websites Attacked, 29 July 2016)

“The attack follows the publication of PCIJ reports on the drug war of the Duterte administration, and our ‘Know Your Rights’ advisories for citizens,” PCIJ said.


Screenshot of PCIJ Facebook note.

The hacking of PCIJ’s website is the first recorded news website attack under the Duterte administration.

VERA Files Website Down

The website of VERA Files was down twice shortly after it published on 21 January 2018 a report about the failure of Duterte and his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to declare their alleged investments worth millions in their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. (Cyberattack downs VERA Files website after report on Duterte, Sara’s allegedly undeclared millions, 23 January 2018)

VERA Files said their website was hit by a DDoS attack 30 minutes after publishing the story. It went back up around 2 a.m. the next day and was attacked again at 6 a.m. The site went back up before noon. (Vera Files reports cyberattack after publishing story critical of Duterte, 23 January 2018)

What Now?

Bulatlat and other alternative media organizations is set to hold a protest action on Tuesday, 12 March 2019, World Day Against Cyber Censorship, in front of the National Computer Emergency Response Team ( NCERT) unit of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) office C.P. Garcia, Quezon City in the Philippines at 10 a.m.

Qurium has called on NCERT to investigate the DDoS attacks against the alternative news sites but NCERT has yet to respond. Bulatlat said they will file a civil action case against IT companies where the attacks are being launched. #

OVERCOME CYBER-MARTIAL LAW

POOLED EDITORIAL

People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya)

12 March 2019

March 12 is World Day against Cyber Censorship, when advocates around the globe will call for an Internet that is not only accessible to all, but also free from restrictions on free speech. It is specially relevant to us today, when our nation is practically under cyber martial law and another tyranny.

The Duterte regime is using every means to silence dissent, criticism and free expression: from threats, incarceration to killings, to cyber warfare. The main target of this latest assault are the alternative media that mostly via online disseminate reports and views on events and issues that are rarely covered, if at all, by the dominant media. The goal is to deny a public hungry for information the reports and stories that it needs to understand what is happening in a country besieged by lies and disinformation.

The distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) against the websites of Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, Pinoy Weekly, and Altermidya began in December and have not stopped since. DDoS is a malicious form of cyber-attack that aims to overload a website and make it inaccessible.

The websites of Arkibong Bayan, Manila Today and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have also been attacked, and so have the websites of human rights group Karapatan, Arkibong Bayan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and lately, Ibon Foundation.

Qurium, the Sweden-based media foundation assisting Bulatlat, Altermidya, Karapatan and Pinoy Weekly, has established that the same techniques and botnets are being used against these websites. An independent review of Kodao Productions’ traffic logs also revealed the same attack signatures.  Quirium noted that it has not seen the same scale of DDoS attacks in any other country.

The details of the attacks have been reported to the National Computer Emergency Response Team (NCERT) of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. But the agency has remained alarmingly silent on the issue.

We have every reason to believe that these attacks are state-sponsored. In the past two years, cyber warfare has taken the form of vilification and redbaiting of progressive leaders and organizations through social media.

The Duterte administration identifies “strategic communication” as one of the pillars of its “whole of nation” approach against dissent and criticism, in which the regime’s counterinsurgency program will infiltrate and target social media and rid cyberspace of  “communist propaganda.”

The cyber attacks are part and parcel of the ongoing assault by the administration on the media. From threatening to revoke the franchises of big media companies to the attempt at the incarceration of Rappler executive Maria Ressa, to the killing of community journalists in the past months, the Duterte administration will stop at nothing to silence the Fourth Estate and its critics.

But Duterte and his keyboard and old-media army of mercenaries are hell-bent not only in silencing their perceived enemies, but also in expanding the echo chambers they maintain to create the illusion of continued support. On one hand, they attack news websites and journalists in all possible ways. On the other, they maintain a horde of fake supporters, employing what is known as “astroturfing” or the practice of creating the illusion of mass support by employing bots and trolls.

The alternative media have consistently upheld journalism for the people and given voice to the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of the political and economic interests of the corporate media, it is the alternative media that are discharging the democratic imperative of providing the information Filipinos need in this hour of national peril.  

We enjoin everyone from all walks of life to unite against, to expose, and to work together in stopping the attacks against all media. We should exhaust all means to make those responsible accountable for their foul deeds.  There are many technical and legal remedies that can and must be pursued to combat and halt the unabated DDoS attacks, including mirroring target websites to keep them online.

To defend press freedom is to defend the people’s right to know. As our fellow journalists and advocates continue to expose the truths on the attacks on indigenous communities, workers, farmers, and other groups, we ask all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand with us. Only through the strength and power of our unity can we defeat these brazen attempts at silencing protest and suppressing the truth.

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