Gov’t told to partner with civic groups to boost media security

PHILIPPINE STAR/ ERNIE PENAREDONDO

John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE government should work with more civic groups to help improve media security, political experts said, after it was reported that the country had 14 unsolved murders involving journalists.

“Civil society groups and actors can only do so much depending on the political openness allowed by government institutions,” Hansley A. Juliano, a political economy researcher studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Civil society actors are not lacking in contributions to media security and they are in alliance with most different types of actors fighting for sectoral rights.”

Acting Press Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

The Philippines remained the seventh worst country in the world where journalist killers get away with murder, according to a report by New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week.

The country, where 85 Filipino journalists were killed between 1992 and 2022, had 14 unsolved murders involving reporters, the New York-based watchdog said in a report.

Somalia was at the top of the impunity index, CPJ said, citing the country’s “history of conflict, political instability and weak rule of law underscoring the entrenched nature of impunity and making it unlikely that authorities will ever devote resources to seeking justice for the journalists.”

The vast majority of killers of journalists continue to get away with murder, CPJ said in its 2022 Global Impunity Index. In about 80% of the 263 cases of journalists murdered in retaliation for their work globally in the past decade, the perpetrators had not been punished, it added.

“Media and civil society organizations should be at the forefront of demanding accountability and the rule of law from government institutions and personnel,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Viber message.

She added that the government should fast-track the prosecution of cases involving journalists.

Jonathan de Santos, who heads the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, said resolving the pending cases of harassment and violence would affirm the government’s commitment to keeping journalists safe.

“President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. could also categorically say that journalists should not be targets of harassment and violence and that those who attack journalists will be held to account by the government,” he said in an e-mail.

The state should also prioritize dialogue between the government and media groups, said Mr. De Santos.

The Department of Justice  (DoJ) said the Marcos administration would continue its probe of journalist murders and harassment.

“This will not stop the new administration from bolstering and strengthening our mechanisms,” DoJ spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV said in a Viber message last week. “In fact, it will motivate us to investigate and prosecute with more vigor.“

He said the government would continue making use of the country’s task force on media security, which was formed under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

The Philippines slipped two notches in the World Press Freedom Index released by the global watchdog, ranking 138th among 180 countries last year.

The Council for People’s development has said impunity in the Philippines impedes freedom of expression and the people’s right to access reliable information.

The Akbayan political party has said the recent murders against local broadcasters highlight the prevailing culture of impunity in the country.

In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the embassies of the Netherlands, Canada and France said journalist killings “curtail the ability of journalists to report the news freely and safely.”

“The ball is in the government’s court to guarantee protection and prevent impunity,” said Mr. Juliano. “Can the Marcos government do that?”