Palace downplays Manila’s latest decline in World Press Freedom

THE Presidential Palace on Thursday downplayed Manila’s latest spot in the World Press Freedom Index, saying the factors that might have contributed to the country’s two-point decline in the ranking were debatable.

The Philippines slipped two notches in the index released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, ranking 138th among 180 countries this year.

Unang-una, dalawang position lang po yan (First of all, that is just two spots. Two positions lower… walang masyadong ibig sabihin (doesn’t mean much),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in an online briefing. “We see nothing wrong with it.”

Mr. Roque noted that the Philippines ranked fourth among the 10 Southeast Asian countries in the press freedom index. He said the country was ahead of Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the country fell in the ranking.

Evaluating the level of freedom given to the press in the Philippine press, the report said the government of Mr. Duterte led a “grotesque judicial harassment campaign” against news outfit Rappler, Inc. It also cited the Congress’ denial of a new franchise for broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp.

Communist-tagging and online harassment of journalists were also carried out by “troll armies” supporting the government, it added.

While the Duterte administration sees “nothing wrong with it,” Mr. Roque said it disputes the ranking because the Paris-based media organization considered as affronts to press freedom the issues faced by Rappler and ABS-CBN. “We also dispute that these two issues should not have led to our decline in our ranking,” he said.

Congress last year rejected the franchise application of ABS-CBN, which has been critical of the Duterte government. Mr. Duterte said he would bar the broadcasting firm from using free TV and radio frequencies even if it gets a new franchise.

Mr. Duterte had also slammed the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, among other outfits, for criticizing his government, particularly his war on drugs that has killed thousands of suspected pushers. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza