PH Slips Further in RSF World Press Freedom Index; Cites Persecution of Critical Media

Screengrab from RSF 2019 World Press Freedom Index

THE PHILIPPINES dropped one spot in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index released by international media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF-Reporters Without Borders) on April 18.

The Philippines ranked 134th out of 180 countries because of the Duterte administration’s continuing threats and attacks against the press. RSF cited the killings of three journalists in 2019 “most likely by agents working for local politicians who can have reporters silenced with complete impunity.” It also pointed out that the government has pressured journalists critical of the administration’s war on drugs, noting that the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN were both targeted in 2017.

RSF highlighted the “grotesque judicial harassment campaign” against online news website Rappler and its editor Maria Ressa. Ressa and Rappler face separate charges for tax evasion, cyber libel and allegations of illegal foreign ownership, all of which Ressa has repeatedly denied.

“The persecution was accompanied by online harassment campaigns waged by pro-Duterte troll armies, which also launched cyber-attacks on several alternative news websites and the site of the National Union Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to block them,” RSF added.

RSF has found an alarming decline in media freedoms “as toxic anti-press rhetoric has devolved into violence, triggering a climate of fear.”

“The scene this year is fear. And the state of journalism and press freedom around the world is declining… but also in the traditional press freedom allies—countries in Europe and here in the United States,” said RSF’s Executive Director Sabine Dolan during the launch of the Index.

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire echoed similar sentiments on the consequences of the decline of press freedom: “If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger…Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”

Annually published since 2002, the Index measures the degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries through a two-fold procedure. RSF conducts a qualitative analysis of the responses of experts to a questionnaire that evaluates 1) pluralism, 2) media independence, 3) media environment and self-censorship, 4) legislative framework, 5) transparency and 6) the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. RSF also analyzes quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the evaluation period.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo claimed the Philippines had been removed from the RSF’s list of deadliest countries for media workers last year. But RSF’s 2018 report described the Philippines as one of “the world’s deadliest countries for journalists and bloggers.”