President Rodrigo Duterte, who once said journalists are legitimate targets for assassination if they do wrong, on Monday called for their protection against threats and intimidation as the nation marked World Press Freedom Day.
The President recognized the vital role of a free and responsible press in the advancement of society, saying his administration could protect the media—even as killings and red-tagging of members of the industry remained rampant under his rule.
Duterte described press freedom as “a public good” and “an indispensable requirement with vibrant democracy.”
“Let me assure everyone that this administration should remain committed in promoting press freedom as a vital component and indicator of progress anywhere in the world,” he said.
He said the press must be protected from all forms of threat and intimidation so that they may fully serve the best interest of our people.
“I join the Filipino people and international community in the annual observance of the World Press Freedom Day. This year’s celebration affirms the Philippines’ commitment to protect press freedom as a public good and as an indispensable requirement with vibrant democracy,” he said in a pre-recorded speech.
“Cognizant of the ever-changing communication system these days, may the mass media also uphold fairness and transparency while also making a positive impact on the people’s lives,” he added.
In a separate written message on World Press Freedom Day, the President reminded both traditional and emerging media to show a “stronger” resolve in upholding truth and accuracy.
He noted that this has become a requirement amid the rapid dissemination of information in the digital age.
“In this digital age where information is created and shared rapidly, the work of both traditional and emerging media requires a stronger commitment in upholding truth and accuracy,” he said.
“Let us continue to use the power of communication for our collective efforts in nation-building and ensure the integrity and safety of the press. Together, let us nurture a better-informed citizenry and realize a brighter future for everyone,” he said.
The Philippines recently fell two places to 138th out of 180 economies in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index in the wake of the red-tagging of and attacks against local media.
Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, honored journalists in the Philippines and abroad who endure harassment, persecution, and violence to pursue the truth and hold the powerful accountable.
“It remains the task of leaders and governments everywhere to respect and uphold freedom of the press, and to extend every protection to the women and men who must risk their lives, freedom, and reputations to bring to public awareness the truth behind events,” she said in a statement.
“Democracy cannot survive, much less flourish, without a free press that works to keep citizens informed by equipping them with a common, verifiable baseline of fact on issues pertinent to society and governance. And in this age of fake news and digital disinformation, where gaslighting has become a frequent tactic to evade accountability, and blatant falsehood has become the common currency in political discourse, this role has become even more imperative.”
Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda on Monday called for increased protection and support for journalists and media practitioners in the country.
“Freedom of the press is essential for democracy. It is the right of the people to be given truthful and timely information, especially in these trying times. Press freedom is equated to transparency which enables our people to engage in meaningful participation in public affairs. It also promotes accountability and curtails corruption, a long-standing obstacle to our country’s development,” Legarda, a former broadcast journalist, said.
“However, our journalists have been in a dire situation for years. They have been covering real-time news that put their lives in danger, while having to deal with difficult work conditions, some having no security of tenure and receiving meager amounts for the needs of their families, especially those from small stations in the provinces, freelancers, and those under project employment contracts,” she added.
Legarda cited the need to strengthen protection and support for the welfare of Filipino journalists so that they could continue upholding the truth and transparency in society.
Meanwhile, Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate described as “tragically ironic the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day when the media in the Philippines is still under attack under the Duterte administration by anti-democratic forces.”
“These attacks are highly abhorrent and condemnable,” he said.
Zarate, nominee of Bayan Muna party-list group noted that on Sunday, “masked assassins killed John Heredia, former president of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) in Capiz, while, just the other day police officers forced a journalist from Nordis to erase the pictures she had taken in Kalinga to hide what they are doing.”
He also said that today (Tuesday) marks the first year anniversary of the shutdown of ABS-CBN.
“So, any platitude to be delivered by Malacañang officials today to honor the media or to say that there is press freedom in the Philippines is delivered with a forked tongue. Malacanang does not want to hear the truth as they happen; they do not want criticisms of their failures as all they want to hear is their own fake news,” Zarate said.