The Philippines becomes a global case study in media repression

LONDON, UK – The Philippines government’s crackdown on the media is part of a global trend of attacks on press freedom, legal experts said at the Reuters Trust 2022 conference in London. London on Wednesday 26 October.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte followed a pattern of autocrats around the world using complex and confusing foreign ownership and tax laws to attack the independent press, said Can Yeginsu, vice chairman of the expert panel. high-level legal instruments on freedom of the media.

Closing orders the Rapperlargest television network ABS-CBNand threats against broadsheet newspapers Filipino Daily Researcherwhich nearly led its owners to sell to a Duterte campaign donor, it was all based on alleged foreign ownership and tax violations.

“You get an idea of ​​how the law is used for collateral purposes to pressure independent journalism in a place like the Philippines. I think the reason states are pursuing this strategy is because tax investigations, foreign ownership, foreign agent laws — these are complex areas, they revolve around applying laws that are too broad,” Yeginsu said.

“But they are there to obscure, to arouse suspicion, to cast doubt on the integrity of the targeted individuals. And I think that’s a relatively new state strategy that we’re seeing,” he added.

In September, a Russian court close the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, one of the last independent media outlets in Russia, after being accused of violating a restriction on foreign agents. Its critical coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine dealt the final blow to the three-decade-old newspaper, run by Dmitry Muratov who won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler.

“Stay away from Maria Ressa and Dmitry and how foreign agent laws in Russia have been enacted and used against human rights defenders, then expand and use them against the media, culminating in the recent closure of Novaya Gazeta – courts must now wrestle with the collateral uses of regulatory chill on journalists,” Yeginsu said.

Yeginsu also observed the pattern in which governments have enacted “vague laws” during the pandemic, supposedly to crack down on misinformation.

“Some of the new legislation was hastily enacted during the pandemic. From a policy perspective, you can understand why a government might want to regulate the spread of false information if it’s related to public health concerns about fake news about vaccines,” he said.

“The problem is of course that this has led to dozens of countries using this as a pretext to enact very vague and overly broad legislation, where the fear is that the legislation will be rolled out for collateral purposes,” Yeginsu added.

The Duterte government imposed the dreaded anti-terrorism law At the height of the pandemic in 2021, a law slammed into political alleys in the Philippines as a pretext to crack down on dissent. It became one of the most legally challenged laws in Philippine history, but the Supreme Court had recently supported its constitutionality, pending actual cases.

One of the last actions of the Duterte government, in addition to affirming Rappler’s shutdown order, was blocking of the alternative news site Bulatlat on navigators for its alleged connection with communist groups. The basis of the National Security Council memorandum was the Anti-Terrorism Law. Bulatlat came from got an injunction against the order.

Even the harshest penalties for defamation under the Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 – under which Ressa was convicted and appealed – exist in other countries such as Bangladesh where, according to Irene Khan, the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, “the Digital Security Act punishes online media much more than traditional media”.

What would Marcos do?

Khan told Rappler on the sidelines of the conference that “it is very sad to see the media bashing in the Philippines.”

Khan said the Duterte government had already invited her, but she had not yet made the trip. She hoped the government’s invitation would still stand under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator who shut down media companies during martial law.

“I don’t want to prejudge [Marcos] administration, it’s been in place for a few months, but what I’m hoping to see are big changes. Big reform in politics, you have constitutional protection that is not exercised properly. The government is a party to international conventions that uphold free and independent media, and I would like to see the government uphold those obligations,” Khan said.

Under the Marcos government, the red flag against journalists or the vicious links between media personalities and communist rebels have not ceased. Chief Editor of Bulatlat Len Olea was the last red marking target it was done on the airwaves of SMNI, a channel that campaigned for Marcos in the election, and owned by doomsday preacher Apollo Quiboloy, wanted in the United States for child sex trafficking.

Continuous attacks

Khan said attacks on female journalists have also become more frequent across the world.

“There are well-coordinated attacks online, basically with the intent of exhausting them, attacking and creating as much mental distress on the individual. The risk is that many of these online attacks will result in actions offline,” Khan said.

The murder of hard-hitting broadcaster Percy “Lapid” Mabasa also created a stir within the Marcos government because Mabasa had been vocal against the red marking and Marcos himself.

There are as yet no clear motives established for their killings, but Khan noted that the government has an obligation to solve the murders whether or not they were involved in some degree.

The Philippines ranks 7th in the world in terms of the number of unsolved murders of journalists, according to the Global Impunity Index 2021 of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“We must not forget that 9 out of 10 cases of murdered journalists are not investigated or prosecuted. If states are unwilling to investigate murders of journalists, if that is the situation, then how can states protect journalists? said Khan.

“Whether it’s the prosecution, the judiciary or parliament, there seems to be a devaluation of media freedom,” Khan added. –

Denise W. Whigham