Media groups said the multiple libel charges filed against seven news outfits and 18 reporters by a Rodrigo Duterte government official and a campaign donor are meant to intimidate journalists from reporting perceived corruption in government.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP), and the Cebu City Press Council (CCPC) said in separate statements they deplore the libel charges filed last week by energy secretary Alfonso Cusi and Duterte campaign donor Dennis Uy against the news outfits.
“These complaints, filed at the same time across seven news organizations, are clear harassment suits meant to intimidate and chill the press,” the NUJP said.
“We view the libel complaints filed against seven news organizations as an assault to press freedom. It sends a chilling effect as this clearly signals that the media would incur the ire of government officials and businessmen even if they do their best to ensure that their stories are factual, accurate and objective,” the EJAP said.
“If Cusi didn’t know basic journalism and constitutional protection of free press and free speech, his publicists and lawyers do. We, in the community media, share the distress of the country’s journalists over the Cusi lawsuit,” the CCPC for its part said.
MALAMPAYA DEAL COMPLAINTS
Cusi announced Friday, December 3, he filed libel charges before the Taguig City Prosecutor’s Office last against 18 Manila Bulletin, ABS-CBN News, BusinessWorld, Rappler, Philippine Star, GMA News, and Business Mirror journalists and officials.
In his statement, Cusi said he filed the complaint last November 29 “to defend his family’s honor, and to send a strong message that there is a fair and humane way to settle misunderstandings and differences without resorting to malicious news reporting.”
Uy reportedly filed counts of libel and cyberlibel against Business World’s Wilfredo Reyes and Bianca Angelica Añago; Anjo Bagaoisan of ABS-CBN; Benjamin Ramos of Business Mirror; and private citizen Rodel Rodis.
Cusi and Uy’s charges stemmed from October 19 news reports on a graft complaint filed against the pair by Balgamel de Belen Domingo, Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Rodis before the Ombudsman.
The complainants allege that Cusi, along with other respondents, conspired to favor Uy’s Udenna Corporation in the sale of Chevron’s share and transfer of rights in the Malampaya Project.
Domingo, Nicolas-Lewis and Rodis said the supposed irregular transaction resulted in “a minimum of over P21 (billion) to P42 billion in total losses to the government.”
The Energy secretary demands the news organizations and the journalists pay P200 million in fines for damaging his “reputation and good standing in government.”
The NUJP however said the amount from each of the seven news organizations could cripple them if enforced.
“Even if it isn’t, the lawyers’ fees that these news organizations would have to pay to answer the complaints and the time it would take to address them — time that could be spent on reporting — are enough to send a chill,” the group said.
“It is meant to say: be careful what you report next. It is the textbook definition of a chilling effect,” it added.
The NUJP, EJAP and the CCPC said the subjects of the libel complaints were news reports based on a press conference, a press release, and a complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman that are “all fair game in journalism, especially that it is about a public official involving a tax-funded project.”
“The journalists did not accuse him; the complainants did. The journalists only covered the complaint,” the NUJP added.
The NUJP and EJAP said they reiterate calls to decriminalize libel. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)