[OPINION] Malacañang reaps fruits of tireless attacks on press freedom

The government cannot just trample on press freedom and get away with it

Chito de la Vega

Published: 1:0 AM May 11, 2018

Updated: 7:48 AM December 17, 2018

 Malacañang is now reaping the fruits of its tireless effort to curtail press freedom. True to his job, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque will again double down and cite this government’s adherence to democracy. I will quote Roque here later, lifting from the transcription provided to media by his office.

The two major harvests of this government’s attacks on press freedom were the findings of the World Press Freedom Index and Facebook’s tapping of third parties to vet fake news. Other equally important achievements recently by Philippine media were 3 international awards given to Filipino journalists for their reportage on the killing spree that is President Duterte’s war against drugs.

Let me just say that, based on the vicious reactions and the counter-attacks hurled at mainstream media on social media, government does not relish these developments.

The results of the 2018 World Press Freedom Index was a no-brainer. President Duterte bad-mouths (to use a mild word) Rappler, Inquirer, and ABS-CBN. Then, in tag team fashion, government agencies pick these up and raise the ante by throwing a barrage of lawsuits at critical media. Naturally, the Philippines skidded to "No. 133 out of 180 countries in the world rankings in 2018" of the Reporters Without Borders. In 2017, we were at 127th place. In its website, RSF said it has been coming out with the World Press Freedom Index since 2002. The index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries. 

Here are some quotes from RSF:

Shortly before being sworn in as president in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte cryptically said: “Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong." It was a grim warning.

In the Philippines (down 6 at 133rd), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination.”

In March 2017, the quick-tempered president lambasted the “sons of whore journalists” at the Daily Philippines Inquirer, the country’s leading daily, and at the biggest TV network, ABS-CBN. In January 2018, the authorities revoked the license of the leading news website, Rappler, which appealed the decision.

The day the RSF report came out, Inquirer’s Leila Salaverria asked Roque about it during his regular press briefing.  (Catch the exchange here from 14:50 to 17:40). 

Rappler reporter Pia Ranada, who was mentioned in that exchange, is still barred from entering Malacañang Palace grounds. Since Pia couldn't directly address Roque's ramblings, let me put here her reply via Twitter:  

We can't cover any event as long as President Duterte is attending. So even reporters in other beats can't attend major events they usually cover (like PNP change of command ceremony) just because Duterte is going to be there. @attyharryroque — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) April 26, 2018 

Even our provincial correspondents are feeling the brunt of Malacanang’s ire. During the recent Palarong Pambansa, DepEd refused to accredit the Rappler team. (Note: Despite DepEd’s effort to break us, Rappler still came out with a top-notch coverage, which outstripped other media groups in terms of audience reached and quality of reportage.) Rappler provincial correspondents have also been denied accreditation to presidential coverages in their areas.

Now, Mr Roque, despite your painting this as something between Ms Ranada and your principal, not everyone is buying that. To borrow a line lawyers like you are fond to use, "Malinaw na panggigipit ito sa Rappler."

Another development which obviously riled the Palace was Facebook’s naming Rappler and Vera Files as partners "for a third-party fact-checking program in the Philippines." The appointment of the two media organizations "aims to prevent false news from spreading on the social media platform.”

You need not look far to know the storm of protests this decision has raised. At hindi pa rin humuhupa ang mga himutok.

It boosted our stock when Rappler and Vera Files were certified last October by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network of Poynter. The task of fact-checkers is to "review news stories on Facebook, check their facts, and rate their accuracy."

Roque ranted about the Facebook announcement. In the radio program of Arnold Clavio on DZBB: 

ARNOLD: Okay, ano ang ang aksyon ng Malacañang sa Rappler at Vera Files sa naging fact-checking partners ng Facebook, Secretary?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, sabi nga po ni Usec Badoy ay magpoprotesta formally ang PCOO, 'no? At ako naman, ang sinabi ko, sang-ayon ako na dapat magkaroon ng fact-checker, ito ang solusyon sa fake news, hindi ang legislation. Dahil nasabi naman ng Saligang Batas, "no laws shall be passed abridging freedom of expression." Hindi naman sinabing abridging true news lang. So – pero tutol naman kami doon sa Vera Files at saka sa Rappler.

Ako naman, Igan, kahit saan tayo makarating, hindi po patas ang Rappler at saka ang Vera Files. Tawagin 'nyo na sila kung ano'ng gusto mong tawag, pero sila po talaga hindi nila gusto ang administrasyon in Presidente Duterte at lahat ng pabor sa Presidente Duterte, sa kanila ay fake news.

Let me congratulate our fellow Filipino journalists, who, despite the dangers and threats to their lives, have showed the world the truth about Duterte's illegal drug campaign. And because of this, they have been recognized by honorable institutions. They are:

Manny Mogato and the Reuters team for winning the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. Here is their winning work.

Luis Liwanag and Aaron Goodman for winning the short form, first prize in the 2018 Digital Storytelling Contest of the World Press Photo. Watch their winning entry, Duterte's Hell.

Rappler's very own Patricia Evangelista and photographer Carlo Gabuco for being among the 3 finalists of the 2018 Osborne Elliott Prize of Asia Society for Excellence in Journalism on Asia. Check out their world-class reportage here

Only Manny Mogato was congratulated by the presidential spokesman, though Roque punctuated this by insisting that Duterte's drug campaign was legitimate.

To fellow Filipino journalists: keep in mind the motto of the Reporters Without Borders website: Don't wait to be deprived of news before defending it! – Rappler.com