A Committee to Protect Journalists mission to the Philippines, led by Board Chair Kathleen Carroll, found increasing levels of intimidation and a shrinking space for the free press in the country. The mission—joined by Peter Greste, director of the Australia-based Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom (AJF), and CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler—is in Manila this week, meeting with a wide range of journalists and government officials.
Based on these meetings, CPJ is extremely concerned about the various types of formal and informal pressure that journalists face. A series of 11 legal cases against the news website Rappler that appear to be politically motivated have created a sense of fear throughout the media industry, leading to self-censorship. Government officials have repeatedly attacked the press, and are threatening to withhold the license of the TV network ABS-CBN.
“The oppressive working environment for journalists in the Philippines is alarming,” said Carroll. “The Duterte government files case after case against Rappler while the president himself lobs sustained, often personal attacks against individual journalists. Online harassment of journalists is highly organized and vicious.”
During their conversations with CPJ, journalists also cited the practice of “red tagging”–accusing reporters, and even the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, of communist affiliation–as putting them in jeopardy of attack or arrest. Smaller news websites covering controversial human rights topics have suffered huge distributed denial of service attacks originating from the Philippines, according to site managers.
“The AJF recognizes the importance of supporting press freedom across the region, and we share CPJ’s concern about what’s happening here,” Greste said. “Government forces are finding new and increasingly sophisticated ways to shut down press freedom so the attacks on Rappler and others have a chilling effect across all journalists. That is profoundly damaging the country’s democracy.”
The Philippines ranks fifth on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which measures the extent to which the killers of journalists escape punishment. The 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 32 of those killed were journalists, remains the worst single incident of journalist killing in CPJ records. Not a single conviction has yet been obtained for these murders.