Filipino journalists, and media organizations, had little reason to celebrate World Press Freedom Day on 3 May; they could only lament the fact that while the Philippines’ press freedom ranking has improved, a culture of impunity remains.
More than two years ago, on a barren hill in a place they called home, 58 people, including members of the press, died in the most gruesome election-related incident in the Philippines’ history.
Today, none of the perpetrators of the so-called Ampatuan massacre have been convicted. In fact, none of the masterminds of any of the murders of the 151 media workers killed since 1986 – when democracy was restored to the Philippines – has been convicted.
This is the sorry state of the press in the Philippines; not to mention low wages, poor working conditions, lack of editorial independence and endemic corruption.
Indeed, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said there was ‘little reason’ to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.
The group said: ‘The Philippines continues to mock its claim to being a democracy, unable to shake off the infamy of being the third most dangerous country for journalists, next to conflict-ridden Iraq and Somalia, where most victims are casualties of war.’
They criticized government inaction and apathy for the impunity with which media murders are carried out, and condemned President Benigno Aquino III for failing to bring to justice the perpetrators of these killings.
Under the presidency of Aquino, which started in June 2010, 11 media workers have been murdered.
‘We have a president who had the gall to ask advertisers to shun media outfits he considers prone to sensationalism, who blames media for his administration’s shortcomings and demands they highlight only the positive,’ the NUJP said.
Advocacy group Freedom House said the Philippines’ press freedom index has improved but noted the country remained classified as ‘partly free’.
Government officials are trumpeting the improvement, saying that it is recognition of the current administration’s initiatives to strengthen press freedom.
To this, the NUJP has only one thing to say to the government: ‘So long as not a single mastermind in any of the 151 media murders since 1986 is arrested, prosecuted and convicted, you have no right to claim credit for anything.’
Looking further afield, Freedom House said in its 2013 report that the situation has worsened across the globe.
‘An overall downturn in global media freedom in 2012 was punctuated by dramatic decline in Mali, deterioration in Greece, and a further tightening of controls in Latin America.
‘Moreover, conditions remained uneven in the Middle East and North Africa, with Tunisia and Libya largely retaining gains from 2011 even as Egypt experienced significant backsliding,’ it said.
Yet the press will not be cowed; nor will we be silenced. And that is what tyrants and oppressive governments do not know.