Duterte’s Press Freedom Day message departs from rankings dip, journalist killings

May 3, 2021 - 6:47 PM
Media workers
Undated photo of reporters and cameramen on a press briefing in Malacañang Palace. (Photo from Philippine News Agency)

President Rodrigo Duterte‘s message for the World Press Freedom Day was inconsistent with the overall assessment of the news landscape in the Philippines, which has seen a decline in global press freedom rankings and an increase in threats, intimidation and killings.

The chief executive on Monday said that the occasion is a reminder of the “vital role of a free and responsible press in the advancement of society.”

“Moreover, the messenger itself, the press, must be protected from all forms of threat and intimidation so that they may fully serve the best interest of our people,” Duterte’s message reads.

He also told Filipinos to “continue to use the power of communication for our collective efforts in nation-building and ensure the integrity and safety of the press.”

The World Press Freedom Day is commemorated every third of May to celebrate the following, according to UNESCO:

  • To celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom
  • To evaluate press freedom around the world
  • To defend the media from attacks on their independence
  • To pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession

UNESCO said it is also “a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom.”

What’s happening: Last month, the Philippines dipped further in the World Press Freedom Index of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

  • The country slipped two notches to 136th place out of 180 countries with a score of 46.64, indicating the “difficult situation” of press freedom in the country.
  • Attacks to the Philippines media, such as the “grotesque judicial harassment” to Rappler and the franchise denial of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, were traced by the international media watchdog to Duterte.
  • A former longtime member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines was killed by two unidentified gunmen last week.
  • According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, at least 19 journalists have been killed within Duterte’s term.
  • Several media groups urged the Supreme Court to quash the Anti-Terrorism Act which Duterte signed. The law defines “terrorism” vaguely and has been seen by critics as a tool that can “trample upon fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the press.”