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2020 saw most brazen abuses vs journalism—NUJP

The year 2020 had been particularly bad for journalism in the Philippines that saw more media workers killed, arrested, jailed and lose their jobs, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported.

The media group said four journalists have been killed in the Philippines, including Cornelio Pepino in Negros Oriental last May 5; Jobert Bercasio in Sorsogon last September 14; Virgilio Maganes in Pangasinan last November 10; and Ronnie Villamor in Masbate last November 14.

Villamor was shot dead by the Philippine Army that claimed the journalist was a communist supporter and killed in an encounter.

Maganes, who survived the first slay attempt against him in 2016 by playing dead, was killed inside their family compound in Villasis, Pangasinan.

“Their deaths have brought the total of media killings under Duterte to 19, and to 191 since 1986,” the NUJP said.

The International Federation of Journalists lists the Philippines as among the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world in 2020.

Their killing of four Filipino media workers figured in the list of 60 journalists killed worldwide in 2020 by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The IFJ list made the Philippines the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in the world in 2020, along with Syria and after India (8 killed), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (7).

The list made the country the most dangerous in Southeast Asia as well.

Twenty-seven journalists were killed in the Asia-Pacific, the most dangerous region for journalists in 2020.

Arrests and detention

Seven journalists have also been arrested, at least two of whom remain detention, both women and executives of alternative media outfits.

Those arrested in 2020 include Glenn Jester Hitgano in Jan. 21 (arbitrarily arrested during coverage); Frenchiemae Cumpio in Feb. 7 (illegal firearms possession); Ramil Traya Bagues in Aug. 18 (cyber-libel); Rommel Ibasco Fenix in Sept. 15 (libel and violation of Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009);  Virgilio Avila Jr.  in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); Mia Concordia in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); and Lady Ann Salem in Dec. 10 (illegal possession of firearms and explosives).

Cumpio, executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista, was sleeping at a church group’s dormitory when arrested in the dead of night.

Her case was among those cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report in June last year as a clear case of human rights violation.

Partial Committee to Protect Journalists list of jailed media workers where Frenchie Mae Cumpio appears.

Cumpio’s imprisonment also made it to the list of 274 journalists jailed in 2020 globally by the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The CPJ said the number was “a new high…as governments cracked down on coverage of COVID-19 or tried to suppress reporting on political unrest.”

Salem, editor of alternative news outfit Manila Today was arrested, of all days, on International Human Rights Day.

The NUJP has reported Salem’s case to the CPJ but the latter’s list has yet to include her name.

Salem is currently is in a Covid-19 isolation protocol at the Mandaluyong City Jail after her transfer from the Philippine National Police’s jail facility at Camp Crame.

CPJ infographic on countries where journalists have been jailed in 2020.

The rest of the arrested Filipino journalists were able to post bail, except Bagues whose current status the NUJP is trying to find out.

Red-tagging and charges

The NUJP said that the Philippine government had been especially vicious against the press the past year as compared to the first three years of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“[B]ad as the first three years were, 2020 trumped them all as Duterte and his minions ramped up their attacks on the free press even as the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its deadly grip felt,” the NUJP said.

The media group said the Duterte government displayed a “most brazen abuse of state power” by red-tagging journalists and media institutions.

Aside from Cumpio and Salem, various government agencies and officials red-tagged alternative media outfits Kodao Productions, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Northern Dispatch, Panay Today, Manila Today, Radyo Natin-Guimba as well as dominant media organizations ABS-CBN, Rappler, CNN-Philippines, among many others.

Veteran journalist and NUJP director and former chairperson Nestor Burgos Jr. had also been red-tagged.

Editors and staff of Baguio City-based Northern Dispatch faced various police-instigated charges in court throughout last year.

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. were judged guilty in June last year of libelling a businessman with links to Duterte.

Maria Ressa in a press briefing after her conviction of libel last June 15. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

ABS-CBN closure

The NUJP said the pandemic gave Duterte convenient cover to make good his repeated threats to shut down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest media conglomerate.

As threats of arrest forced the growing crowds that had rallied to the beleaguered network since late last year to stand down, the House of Representatives allowed ABS-CBN’s franchise to lapse, forcing the network to stop broadcasting on May 5.

On May 5, the network stopped broadcasting and, two months later, in June, the majority of the House committee on congressional franchises sealed its fate, voting to deny it a new franchise to operate.

Duterte thus become the second president after Ferdinand Marcos to force ABS-CBN off the air, the NUJP said.

The closure left thousands jobless and the loss of ABS-CBN regional stations also left many areas without their major source of news and entertainment.

The full extent of this would become clear during typhoons Rolly and Ulysses that caught millions of victims previously dependent on ABS-CBN news and alerts unaware of the hazards of the disasters, the NUJP said.

We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” media organizations including 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 said.

Bright spots

All was not gloomy in 2020, however, as there had been bright spots in the local media community’s defense of press freedom, the NUJP said.

“Not least of this was the successful push to have UNESCO revert the status of the Ampatuan massacre to ‘unresolved’ after it was pointed out that the legal process is not finished and 76 suspects are still at large and will need to be tried should they be arrested, the media group said.

The NUJP also cited other notable victories such as the case of GMA workers who sued the network over unfair labor practices

In February, the Court of Appeals decided to reinstate, with no loss of seniority and with full back wages, 51 employees who had been illegally terminated while the Supreme Court in September ruled to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen illegally dismissed by GMA in 2013.

The NUJP also said that despite “continuing efforts of the enemies of truth to spread disinformation, the media community has, by and large, successfully fended them off, including the paid influencers and trolls of government.”

“As we thankfully bid goodbye to 2020, we are also aware of what could be even greater challenges and threats to freedom of the press and of expression in 2021 and beyond…And so we look forward to 2021 resolved to continue defending and pushing the boundaries for press freedom in our land,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Journalist, 6 trade union organizers arrested in police raids on human rights day

[UPDATED] A journalist was among those arrested by the Philippine National Police in a wave of arrests today, International Human Rights Day.

Lady Ann Salem, editor of alternative news site Manila Today, was arrested by the police at 9AM at her residence in Mandaluyong City.

Salem inside an unmarked police car this morning. (Photo by a relative)

She was first taken to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) headquarters in Quezon City but was whisked to a Pasig City police office just as her lawyer Kristina Conti arrived.

Conti and Manila Today staff followed the police van to Pasig City but were led to a chase that ended in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where Salem is now being detained.

Salem, a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC), co-founded the alternative media group Tudla and was among those who attended the founding assembly of the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) in 2010.

She is also a fellow of the Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop of UP-CMC.

Tudla and Manila Today are chapters of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Salem is also the communications officer of the global media group International Association of Women in Radio and Television.

https://www.facebook.com/altermidya/posts/1857999847682801

Wave of arrests

Since 2AM this morning, the police had been raiding homes and arresting trade union organizers.

Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines was first to be arrested at their home in Lagro, Quezon city by the CIDG and was taken to Camp Karingal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District.

Like many other arrested activists, the police alleged that Velasco was in possession of guns and explosives.

In a Facebook Live post, Velasco’s wife Diane Zapata denied they were keeping such items at their home.

She in turn accused the police of planting them while they were ordered to lie face down for an hour and the police team had unhampered access to their house.

In a police report, the CIDG said it also arrested a Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Raiselle Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio, and Joel Demate in a wave of arrests in Quezon City, Mandaluyong and Manila that netted several guns, explosives and ammunition.

Human rights and media groups are organizing an online rally at 7PM tonight to demand for Salem and the trade union organizers’ freedom.

Indignation rallies are also scheduled Friday morning at Camp Karingal, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court and Camp Crame. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Media groups rally behind AlterMidya; condemn ‘callous, dangerous, evidence-less red-tagging’

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)

ABS-CBN reporter named 2020 McLuhan fellow

Three months after the forced closure of their media company, an ABS-CBN reporter was named the 2020 Marshall McLuhan Fellow at the conclusion of today’s Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar.

Christian Esguerra was presented the prestigious distinction by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in the first ever online version of the annual event.

Esguerra was cited for the quality of his reports on television and online along with PhilStar.com’s Camille Diola who in turn received this year’s Award of Distinction.

Esguerra and Diola were among this year’s seminar panellists with Rappler’s Lian Buan, ABS-CBN’s Mike Navallo, GMA Network’s Raffy Tima and ABS-CBN’s Chiara Zambrano.

“More than the personal recognition, I‘m hoping for greater courage and solidarity among journalists. Journalism, especially at this time, is not for the timid and subservient,” Esguerra said of his award.

Esguerra also received the Titus Brandsma Emergent Leadership in Journalism Award in October 2019, the latest of only three recipients so far.

This year’s Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar discussed the coverage of various issues in the news in the past year: COVID-19, China and the West Philippine Sea, the relationship of the press and the government, the state of the press, and other governance issues.

The McLuhan Fellowship, named after the Canadian communication theoretician, had been sponsored by the Embassy of Canada in the past 24 years.

The fellowship consists of a two-week familiarization and lecture tour of Canadian media and academic organizations, and later, a lecture tour of Philippine universities.

It was first awarded in 1997 and among its 21 fellows were Sheila S. Coronel (Columbia Journalism School and Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism), Yvonne T. Chua (VERA Files), Ed Lingao (TV5), Carolyn O. Arguillas (MindaNews), and Cheche Lazaro (ProbeTV), among others. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Press freedom impeded in Hong Kong as police limits definition of recognized media representatives

Freelance and student journalists could be arrested when reporting from protest sites in proposed new law
Screen capture from a video taken by reporter Leung Pak-kin from online media Rice Post.

The following post was written by Kelly Ho and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on September  23, 2020. This edited version is published under a content partnership with Hong Kong Free Press. It has also been published by Global Voices that Kodao is now republishing under a content-sharing agreement.

Hong Kong police announced a controversial decision on September 22 to redefine “media representatives” by limiting them to government-registered and “internationally recognised” agencies, newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations. As a result, press cards issued by local journalist groups would no longer be accepted as valid accreditation.

Under the new policy, freelance journalists, journalists from student press outlets, documentary filmmakers, journalists who work for local media organizations which have not registered under the Government News and Media Information System (GNMIS) and journalists who work for foreign media outlets which are not “internationally recognised and reputable” will not be recognized as media representatives. This also implies that the police could arrest them when they are reporting from protest sites.

The police force said the proposed change of the Police General Orders, a set of guidelines for Hong Kong police officers on law enforcement, would help facilitate frontline policing and reporting. It would also help them identify members of the press and bar “self-proclaimed” journalists from protest sites.

The new guidelines drew widespread criticism from journalists, as eight press unions and associations slammed the move as “seriously impeding press freedom” in the city.

They asked the police to scrap what they consider a de facto accreditation system, stressing that:

Police unilaterally made such a major amendment without discussion and consultations, destroying a relationship that was built over many years.

Journalism schools from seven local universities also issued a joint statement expressing their “gravest reservations” over the new policy presented by the police force:

In our view, the police have every right to take action against anyone engaging in illegal activities; however, this proposed policy is in effect restricting the freedom of reporting. We are concerned that the new policy would amount to giving clear instructions to officers to disperse non-mainstream journalists who have done no wrong and are only exercising their right to gather information.

Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club said the new scheme would deliver a “serious blow” to freelance journalists and student reporters, who had provided “compelling reporting” during last year’s large-scale unrest.

Eight key protest moments captured by freelance and student journalists

HKFP has examined key moments from the city’s year-long pro-democracy protests that were captured by freelancers and student media.

Many of the clips gained viral traction and were shared freely with local, as well as international media. Student and freelance reporters often faced great personal risk in capturing iconic protest moments, yet received little reward, lacked protection from large news outlets and bore the brunt of police-protester actions. Here are some of the main key moments of the protests covered by such media.

Warning: some of the videos include graphic scenes of violence.

September 6: riot police tackle a teenage girl

The HKUST Radio News Reporting Team captured footage of riot police pinning a young girl to the ground after she tried to flee during a demonstration in Mong Kok on September 6.

Although the teenager was not arrested, the police reaction sparked outrage from children’s rights groups who demanded the force apologise. Police later defended the response, saying officers had used the “minimum necessary force” to subdue the girl.

August 31: police pepper spray pregnant woman

The online website NineTeen Media filmed a pregnant woman who appeared to have been affected by police pepper spray at a demonstration in Mong Kok on August 31. Independent outlet Studio Incendo, which shares its images under a Creative Commons license, also shot widely-shared photographs of the incident.

July 1: protester stabs police officer

The Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board captured the moment when a protester stabbed a police officer in the arm on July 1, the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China. Thousands of Hongkongers had defied a police ban to march between Causeway Bay and Wan Chai in protest of the Beijing-enacted national security law.

November 11, 2019: police fire three live rounds in Sai Wan Ho, striking a protester

Cupid Producer documented a police officer firing three live rounds at two protesters at close range in Sai Wan Ho on November 11, 2019, during a general strike action across the city. One of the rounds hit a protester, who had a kidney and half of his liver removed as a result.

October 1, 2019: police shoot an 18-year-old with live round at close range

Last year, on October 1, the campus TV of the University of Hong Kong recorded graphic footage of police shooting an 18-year-old protester with a live round in Tsuen Wan. The teenager – Tsang Chi-kin – who appeared at the time to have a rod in his hand, was shot in his left lung. He was left in a critical condition and underwent surgery to remove the bullet, which was three centimetres from his heart.

October 1, 2019: National Day turmoil in a 360° view

HKFP freelancer Thomas Broader shot a 360-degree video on October 1, 2019, presenting an all-immersive view of the citywide turmoil. Hong Kong saw clouds of tear gas, petrol bombs and vandalism that day as protesters “mourned” the Chinese National Day.

August 31, 2019: police storm Prince Edward Station

Reporter Leung Pak-kin from online media Rice Post shot a video inside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31 last year, which showed police beating people with batons and deploying pepper spray while making arrests. Journalists and medics were expelled from the station, according to local media, leading to unverified rumours of civilian deaths during the incident.

July 27, 2019: police beat protesters inside Yuen Long MTR station

An HKFP freelancer, who does not wish to be named, captured chaotic scenes inside the Yuen Long MTR station on July 27, 2019. In the video, Special Tactical Squad officers were seen beating crowds as protesters set off fire extinguishers. There appears to be blood on the floor.

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.