By Julius D. Mariveles

TO REIN in the culture of impunity, and the relentless rise in the cases of extra-juidicial killing of journalists in the Philippines, the country’s top human rights lawyer, Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno, has proposed five reform measures.

Among others, he said the Government might do well to get out of its “state of denial” that cases exist, the judiciary might allow prompt perpetuation of testimony by witnesses, and the Ombudsman might be asked to prosecute members of the judiciary who are failing in their duty to rush resolution of the cases.

“Impunity is the dark side of accountability,” Diokno, founding dean of the De La Salle College of Law, said.

With the Philippines still ranked third last year in the 2013 Impunity Index of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, impunity became one of the central issues discussed by journalists, bloggers, diplomats, and press freedom advocates during a forum marking World Press Freedom Day on April 29 in Intramuros, Manila.

“Impunity is the dark side of accountability,” says lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, De La Salle Law School dean and national chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Diokno, who is also the national chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said the judiciary can make the first step in the fight against impunity by placing it at the top of the judicial agenda.

The Philippine government had been in a “state of denial” about impunity for the past eight years and has always been claiming that extra-judicial killings were being committed by “misguided elements of the military and police” and are only “isolated cases.”

It was only in 2007, he said, when the government did something concrete about EJK cases when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Administrative Order No. 181 ordering public prosecutors and law-enforcement officials to work together to investigative these cases.

Diokno also said EJKs and other grave human rights abuses in the country “pose an even greater challenge” because it has a judicial system that is “outmoded, inefficient, highly-congested and extremely slow.”

“Unless given special attention, (human rights) cases tend to get lost in the judicial shuffle; they also tend to take forever.”

Diokno also proposed the following reform measures:

For the government to include human rights organizations in the inter-agency committee created through Administrative Order No.35 that President Benigno S. Aquino III issued in November 2012.

Headed by the Justice Secretary and composed of other cabinet members, the committee has become the centerpiece of the Aquino administration’s efforts to resolve cases of impunity.

It is, however, a purely government body with no representatives from human rights organizations. Diokno recalled that in 1990, during the administration of Aquino’s mother, Corazon, FLAG and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines were among the members of a similar committee.

“We were able get a lot of things done quickly with cases that need the attention of government,” he said.

Come up with a mechanism to preserve the testimonies of witnesses.

Diokno said based on his experience as a human rights lawyer, the lack of this system is “the biggest obstacle to a successful prosecution of human rights cases.”

With criminal cases lasting between five and 10 years, witnesses often get compromised, lose interest or get killed because of the delay in the trial. He said FLAG had long been pushing for Congress to pass a law and for the Supreme Court to come up with rules that would expand the rules on the admission of testimonies from witnesses.

Fill up vacant positions for judges and prosecutors with qualified and dedicated lawyers.

This alone could hasten the speed by which cases are decided, Diokno said.

He described the vacancy of positions for prosecutors and judges to be “quite alarming,” citing that two out of 10 positions for prosecutors and judges have not been filled up.

In 2007, data from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed the country only had 1,717 judges compared to the 2,182 judges needed at all levels, or a vacancy of 465.

In fact, judges in the lower courts handled an average of 644 cases every year or about three cases to be resolved each day, according to an article of Dr. Jose Ramon G. Albert published on the NSCB website.

Allow the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate and prosecute members of the judiciary.

Diokno, a leading advocate for transparency in the judiciary, said the Constitution provides that all government officials and employees can be investigated by the Ombudsman, the watchdog created after then President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. was forced out of power in 1986.

However, a ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Judge Bonifacio Maceda of the Regional Trial Court in Antique on April 22, 1193 practically excluded the High Court from the investigating authority of the Ombudsman.

“It is practically the Supreme Court that took itself out of the equation with that decision,” Diokno said as he called on Congress and the government to restore the investigative power of the Ombudsman over the High Tribunal.

In the end, Diokno said how justice is administered would “determine if a country would follow the path of impunity or the less-traveled road of accountability.” – PCIJ, May 2015

MR. TERENCE JONES, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in the Philippines, delivered the opening remarks at a public forum “Let Journalism Thrive: The Right to Life, The Right to Know, The Right to Free Expression,” to mark World Press Freedom Day 2015.

The forum held on April 29, 2015 in Manila was organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) with support from the Embassy of the United States of America and the UNDP-Philippines.

The full text of Mr. Jones’s remarks follows:

“It is with great pleasure that I join with you today in observation of World Press Freedom Day, a time to reflect upon the importance of media in a democracy, wherein freedom of information and expression is fundamental.

Every year since 1993, the 3rd of May is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Over 100 national celebrations take place each year to commemorate this Day. UNESCO leads the worldwide celebration by identifying the global theme and organizing the main event in different parts of world every year. This year’s main event is in Riga, Latvia and the theme is: Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General of UNESCO and Humanitarian Coordinator for Human Rights issued a joint statement for the Day, which includes the following:

“For peace to be lasting and development to be sustainable, human rights must be respected. Everyone must be free to seek, receive and impart knowledge and information on all media, online and offline. Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power.

“For this, journalism must be able to thrive, in an enabling environment in which they can work independently and without undue interference and in conditions of safety. The world has recently witnessed horrendous attacks against journalists — at least one journalist is killed each week, in conflict and non-conflict zones. We must redouble efforts to enhance the safety of journalists and put an end to impunity, and this is the goal of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

“We need every voice to speak out and be heard – especially those of women. Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women remain under-represented throughout the media, at decision-making level but also in the coverage of issues. We cannot let this stand. Men and women must participate equally in making and sharing the news.”

The three themes for today are:

Independent and Quality Media

Quality journalism can be an abstract concept to grasp as there is no universal set of criteria of quality journalism. Often, it is dependent on socio-political and cultural characteristics and constraints. The changing influence of commercialization and concentration of ownership also impacts on the independence and quality of journalism. Numbers of awards, audience share, the resources available for newsroom, audience responses and participation, and industry’s perception can all be part of the indicators of quality.

Independence of the newsroom is also a crucial indicator: from editors being able to set the agenda to the individual reporter’s ability to seek out news stories. The quality issue is further complicated by the proliferation of social media producers of news. What is clear is that investigative journalism, in particular, relies on the qualities of accurate, in-depth and critical reporting on matters of special public concern, work which often requires long and difficult research.

Gender and Media (With Special Focus on the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Change)

Amongst many ambitious objectives, the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action includes two explicit goals which are to one, “increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication” and two, “promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media”. Twenty years on, obstacles are still present in today’s media industry, ranging from imbalanced access to information and under-representation of women to insufficient media coverage of gender issues and outright violence against female journalists and women.

Digital safety for journalists and their sources

With ever more sophisticated surveillance mechanisms, anonymity of sources could be a thing of the past. Is it possible to keep journalists’ sources confidential in the digital age? Can journalism move forward without anonymity of sources? What are the consequences of public trust for journalists? Are established limitations of surveillance, indicated in UN General Assembly resolutions, sufficient to address the boundaries between the right to privacy, especially with regard to sources, and authorities’ justifications for surveillance?

Journalists and others who contribute to journalism also face a myriad of other digital security challenges, including software and hardware exploits without the knowledge of the target; phishing attacks; fake domain attacks; man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks; denial of service (DoS) attacks; website defacement; compromised user accounts; intimidation, harassment and forced exposure of online networks; disinformation and smear campaigns; confiscation of journalistic work products, and data storage and mining. What can be done to better safeguard digital privacy and the security of digital data?

Safety of Journalists and other Media personnel

This celebration is also the occasion to highlight the importance of addressing the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.

In that context today is of singular importance to the Philippines. Despite restoring its democracy in the people power revolution 29 years ago, the Philippines is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media personnel.

As of 2014, the Philippines stands at 149th in the World Press Freedom Index. This is part of a worsening trend, from 147th in 2013, and 140th in 2012. The Maguindanao Massacre, where 58 people, including 32 media personnel were killed, is an especially resounding testament to this fact, but other killings also occur almost frequently. These extrajudicial killings do not only pose a threat to a journalist’s right to life. They also represent threats to the right to freedom of speech, the right to information, and ultimately, the right of a nation to call itself a democracy.

The Philippine government has taken some steps to address these concerns, including the body on extrajudicial killings created to speed up investigations. However, progress has been slow, and only a handful of convictions have been made.

There is much more to be done. We cannot rest until the number of extra-judicial killings is brought to zero, and that journalists and citizens alike can access and report on information without fear of violence or coercion.

I would like to stress here that the Philippines can count on international support in this effort. At the recent meeting of the UNESCO Executive Board the main message was that all journalists, media workers, and social media producers who generate a significant amount of public interest journalism, whether they are freelancers or full time staffers, from big to small media outlets, should be safe to carry out their work.

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity is a multi-stakeholder approach to improve the safety of journalists. UNESCO will convene a conference with high level representatives of news organizations from all regions, including community media and small media outlets and open to stakeholders. The aim is to share good practices on the safety of journalists and more proactively highlight the issue of journalist safety.

This follows the Implementation Review Report of the UN Plan of Action, which was finalized at the 3rd UN-Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, held in Strasbourg, France on 4 November 2014.

That Report noted that “Media houses and other actors should be encouraged to find common ground on the issue of safety and be more proactive in highlighting the issues.” It added: “Media houses should be encouraged to investigate and report on fatal and non-fatal attacks on journalists and media organizations, and follow up on impunity stories, as well as on occasions such as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November each year.”

The Decision also called for increased information sharing broadly, and for greater use of the UNESCO research report ‘World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development’ , including during the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council (which for the Philippines takes place in 2017). It further urged strengthened cooperation with professional organizations and other actors in addressing the safety of journalists, with a specific focus on women journalists.

Capacity-building is supported as well, including through projects of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), which from 2013 up to 2015, channeled financial support to more than 30 projects promoting the safety of journalists. The IPDC Intergovernmental Council also receives the bi-annual report of the UNESCO Director General on the killings of journalists and the state of judicial follow-up.

Protecting Human Rights and Freedom of Information

It is in this respect that UNDP is here to support the Commission on Human Rights, the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism, and the US Embassy in this important initiative. Through the UNDP project ‘Empowering Citizens to Deepen Democracy’, we have supported PCIJ to develop documentaries on political issues throughout the Philippines, build a governance database to allow citizens to track the record and performance of their leaders, as well as to train young journalists in responsible reporting techniques.

In addition to our direct support to the media, UNDP is seeking to strengthen the enabling environment for a democratic society. This includes the setup of the monitoring mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review, wherein government, civil society, and the private sector track and encourage the Philippines’ progress in complying with the UPR recommendations. Amongst the big ticket policy reforms include the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and of course, the Freedom of Information Bill – both of which are still pending in Congress.

Road to 2016 and Beyond

Each of us have a reform agenda which we are working on in our own ways. We will be more successful if we work together on this; if we share information; if we combine efforts; if we build coalitions for human rights and freedom of information.

This multi-stakeholder gathering could be the start of a broader movement to push for and support the reforms which the Filipino people desperately need. Without such efforts journalists will continue to face threats to their very right to life.”

Maraming salamat po!

REPORTERS in the Philippines light candles during a commemoration for the Ampatuan Massacre, the single deadliest attack on journalists in the world. Thirty-two media workers and reporters were murdered in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

REPORTERS in the Philippines light candles during a commemoration for the Ampatuan Massacre, the single deadliest attack on journalists in the world. Thirty-two media workers and reporters were murdered in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

AS the world marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2015, we are publishing this overview of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) on the situation of press freedom in the region originally published on its website with the same title on May 3, 2015.

RULES imposed on journalists, media and free expression form the distinct highlight in the situation in Southeast Asia in 2015. Most countries in the region, with a few exceptions, largely stayed put with regards to their situation of press freedom and freedom of expression, with the same prevailing issues of media restriction, control and violence in varying degrees in each country.

The exceptions to this trend are not positive developments, with three countries experiencing serious setbacks in media freedom and freedom of expression.

The big news of the year is about Thailand, and how the country turned around from having a relatively free press to being one of the most restricted in terms of media and public expression. The military junta that took power in the 22 May 2014 coup d’etat has imposed strict bans on media, public and online criticism of government while it overhauls the political system before calling for elections in 2016. Generally, media and citizens have learned to keep within the rules after hundreds were ‘invited’ the the military for ‘attitude adjustment’ – euphemisms for summons and detention. Or maybe, people are just biding their time.

Burma, officially known as Myanmar, continued and intensified last year trend of deterioration in its new found media freedom. From jailing individual journalists in 2013, the government has now taken action against publications and collective actions of journalists by using security and criminal defamation laws.

Veteran journalist Ed Lingao on the field in Afghanistan

Veteran journalist Ed Lingao on the field in Afghanistan

Press Laws

Seven out of eleven countries in Southeast Asia have press laws – or laws that oversee the role and functioning of news media or journalism. These laws are different from media licensing laws, which regulate how media, whether print, broadcast or online, can be established. The latest countries in the region to legislate press laws are Burma in 2014 and Timor Leste in January this year.

Press laws in the region have different frameworks and principles. For example, Indonesia’s Press Law of 1999 defines and protects journalistic work. It is a model for the region as a guarantee to keep the media free from state intervention and harassment. At the other end of the spectrum, the respective press laws in Laos and Vietnam direct media to serve as the propaganda arm of the state, placed under direct control of the government or the single party governing the country. Nonetheless, most press laws still imbue some form of rights for the journalist to gather and report information.

The region, however, is moving toward increasing regulations and restrictions as new rules are imposed to restrict freedom of expression in general and media reporting in particular.

Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Timor Leste’s new Press Law, intended to protect and develop the young nation’s media, has effectively put new rules and restrictions on journalistic practice. Previously, the media enjoyed a broad constitutional guarantee of press freedom and freedom of expression. Now, apart of having a code of ethics enforced by legislation, the Press Law imposed rules on who can conduct journalistic practice in the country.

Burma’s new News Media Law was passed by parliament last year to replace the 1962 Printer and Publishers Registration Law that governed the media throughout the half-century rule of successive military juntas. Among others, the law upholds some journalistic rights and institutes professional self-regulation. However, the law was passed alongside a Printing and Publishing Enterprise Law (PPEL) that retained government licensing prerogatives and outlined prohibited content that can be the basis for revoking permits.

“In front of computer screens, bloggers and netizens are writing, commenting and criticising governments in Laos, Singapore and Vietnam on an unprecedented scale. Even the quiet act of reading, at times requiring proxies to access blocked online information, brings hope that change is happening – maybe slowly but for certain.”

In reality, the status of the new press law in Burma is uncertain. A permanent Press Council has not been appointed to replace or formalize the interim body appointed while the law was being drafted. Instead of using mechanisms in the law to address professional and ethical breaches, authorities have used criminal charges based on security laws and defamation to jail journalists. On the other hand, the PPEL has been invoked in closing down four community journals in Chin State for not having a permit.

In Cambodia and Malaysia, the licensing regulations are being wielded as a political tool for approving applications of independent media for broadcast (in Cambodia) and publication (Malaysia) licenses in environments dominated by allies and supporters of the ruling parties.

Click on the image to read the full statement on the SEAPA website.

NERLITA LEDESMA, one of the journalists in the Philippines killed this year | Photo from Nerlita Ledesma's Facebook page

NERLITA LEDESMA, one of the journalists in the Philippines killed this year | Photo from Nerlita Ledesma’s Facebook page

By Earl G. Parreno

“Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Ethical journalism means dedication to accuracy: fact-checking and credible sources.” – US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg

“Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption and the abuse of power.” – Terence Jones, United Nations Resident Coordinator

WHILE statistics show a significant decline in the number of extra-judicial killings (EJK) in the Philippines, “there is still a tragic number of deaths” recorded the past recent years, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg yesterday told a forum marking World Press Freedom Day.

UNITED STATES Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg speaks to journalists, bloggers, students and press freedom advocates during a forum to mark World Press Freedom Day in Manila, Philippines on 29 April 2015 |Photo by Cong B. Corrales

UNITED STATES Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg speaks to journalists, bloggers, students and press freedom advocates during a forum to mark World Press Freedom Day in Manila, Philippines on 29 April 2015 |Photo by Cong B. Corrales

The number of EJKs, he said, including those against journalists, have declined from a high of over 200 per year in the late 2000 to around 50 to a hundred per year in recent years.

“We’ve seen some positive development with regards to press freedom in the Philippines over the last few years. But it’s not there yet,” he said, stressing that “We all have to work so that number becomes zero.”

Speaking in the same forum, Terence Jones, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, pointed out that, “At least one journalist is killed each week in conflict and non-conflict areas (around the world).”

The UN official said, “For peace to be lasting and development sustainable, human rights must be respected. Everyone must be free to seek and impart knowledge and information through media online and offline.”

According to Jones, “Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption and the abuse of power.”

“At least one journalist is killed each week in conflict and non-conflict areas (around the world),” says Terence Jones, United Nations Resident Coordinator to the Philippines during a forum to mark World Press Freedom day held 29 April 2015 in Manila | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

The UN, he said, has a Plan of Action with the goal of making journalists safe and putting an end to impunity.

The Philippines is ranked as one the most dangerous places in the world for media personnel.

The UN has declared May 3rd of every year as World Press Freedom Day. The forum, held at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, was attended by media practitioners, internet bloggers, journalism students, and human rights advocates. It was organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) with the support of the US Embassy in Manila and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

View clip of Ambassador Goldeberg’s keynote address below. Video by Cong B. Corrales

Ambassador Goldberg, for his part, emphasized the role of “real” journalists in society, pointing out that it is a unique and venerable vocation that requires many different attributes namely, ethics, dedication and bravery.

“They give voice to those without political or economic power. Journalists do this because they have heart, they have heart to expose the truth,” he stressed.

However, he said, “anyone who knows how to write these days could call themselves a journalist.”

“In so many ways you could get your message to the public, through the internet, through blogs. In fact it seems anyone who knows how to tweet these days can say they are journalists,” Goldberg said.

But being a real journalist involves something more, he again emphasized. “It involves real truth-seeking, truth-telling. It’s not fabricating stories to make money or exaggerating the headlines to sell the paper,” the Ambassador said. “Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Ethical journalism means dedication to accuracy: fact-checking and credible sources. It means educating oneself on a variety of topics to ensure stories are well-informed.”

Too, Goldberg reiterated that press freedom means “freedom from fear, freedom from intimidation, freedom from violence for the journalist, and for the citizen.”

“It’s the right to tell your story, share your opinion and have your voice heard. (But) it’s a two-way street,” he said, and “that puts a tremendous burden (on journalists) in telling that story in a responsible and fair way.”

We are printing the full text of the speech given by Rowena Paraan, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines given during the forum for World Press Freedom Day in Manila, Philippines entitled “Let Journalism Thrive: The right to life, the right to know, the right to free expression.

Not all threats to Press Freedom are as obvious as a .45 caliber gun

“The can be no press freedom if journalists exist in conditions of poverty, corruption and fear.”

News organizations last night had more than the usual skeleton staff on duty. A lot of us in fact stayed up until three this morning to monitor the execution of Mary Jane Veloso at an island prison in Indonesia. Mary Jane came from a poor family of sakadas or seasonal farm workers. She has two sons and, just like the 3,700 Filipino workers who leave the country daily, she decided to work abroad in order to feed her family.

We all know by now the story of Mary Jane. She was recruited by a family friend to work in Malaysia but when she got there, there was no job. Instead she was made to go to Indonesia, unknowingly (according to supporters) carrying luggage with heroin hidden in the lining. With limited English, interrogated without legal counsel and her family receiving death threats from the drug syndicate, she was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad.

NUJP chairperson Rowena Paraan | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

NUJP chairperson Rowena Paraan | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

So why am I talking about Mary Jane Veloso? A lot of Filipinos find themselves in situations like that of Mary Jane, including Filipino journalists. Anxious to provide for their families, desperate to break away from poverty and often forced to risk their safety to get the kind of picture or interview that the networks or newspapers would be willing to pay for.

When we talk about threats to press freedom, the first things that come to mind, especially if in the context of countries like the Philippines, are the killings of journalists. But some threats to freedoms are not always as obvious as a .45 caliber gun or as loud as a gunshot. Some attacks happen quietly and hit us where it hurts the most: in the stomach, or sikmura. But, ironically, many journalists have gotten so used to the situation that they no longer see or they fail to understand how it already undermines basic rights and freedoms, including the right to a free press.

US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, gave the keynote address to the forum for World Press Freedom Day held in Manila, Philippines on April 28, 2014 | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, gave the keynote address to the forum for World Press Freedom Day held in Manila, Philippines on April 28, 2014 | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

I have talked about the plight of media workers before (pasensiya na po kung paulit-ulit) but I am bringing it up again, this time in the context of World Press Freedom Day.

Among our colleagues, community journalists have always been the most vulnerable — to assassin’s bullets or to exploitation and abuse by media owners.

Most community media outfits are too small to be able to provide adequate compensation and benefits to their workers.

A community journalist in Zamboanga for example, who is now in her 30s, reported to NUJP that all the papers she has worked for have always paid way below the minimum. At the moment, she receives the average paltry sum of P80 a day or P2400 a month.

SOME of the participants to the forum for World Press Freedom Day held in Manila, Philippines on April 29, 2014 | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

SOME of the participants to the forum for World Press Freedom Day held in Manila, Philippines on April 29, 2014 | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Journalists are also sometimes made to sign two sets of payroll. In one radio station for example, one payroll indicates a salary of P8000 and the other P5000. The same goes even with the required 13th month pay.

Community reporters usually have neither medical insurance, social benefits nor bonuses.

But there are still far more horrendous ways that community journalists are exploited.

There are media outlets that do not pay at all their reporters, leaving them to find ways to earn money using their press cards. “Diskarte” is how it is usually referred to. This may entail knocking on the door of officials, letting them hear the recording of the commentary or news report that aired recently wherein the official is given much prominence. With fingers crossed, the reporter hopes that the official is grateful or happy enough to slip him or her a Ninoy Aquino bill, depending on how much pogi points he will get from the broadcast.

UNITED NATION's county representative Terence Jones | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

UNITED NATION’s county representative Terence Jones | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Some media owners take on politicians as clients, their stations or papers serving as mouthpieces. In exchange, the clients take care of their reporters’ salaries. If the client happens to be the mayor, reporters are sometimes included in the city hall’s payroll.

Then there are those that compel their news staff to solicit advertising to get commissions in lieu of wages. This makes it difficult for the staff to publish reports critical of the entity that have placed the ads. This, we all know, is one of the oldest and most effective ways of influencing media.

But let us not forget the leasing of airtime to unscrupulous politicians who then put / in the blocktime program / media colleagues desperate for work in an increasingly shrinking job market. The journalists then are used as surrogate warriors in their political battles.

These practices have reduced journalists, who used to be very highly regarded being vanguards of democracy and freedom, to almost the level of mendicancy and stripped of dignity.

Furthermore, the lack of decent wage, the absence of job security and the little job opportunities available – ALL make the journalists extremely vulnerable. Just like Mary Jane Veloso, forced to go to Indonesia and later Malaysia despite the uncertainties and risks.

On the other hand, the tactics employed by owners to squeeze as much profit as possible from every issue, every broadcast brazenly violate labor laws. They not only violate economic rights and dignity. They also put the journalists in the line of fire, often leading to them getting threats, being charged with criminal libel, or even physically attacked.

Many, even us media groups, have linked some media killings to a serious lack of ethics and professionalism in quite a number of practitioners. We have never denied the truth to this observation and NUJP has worked hard to promote ethics and professional practice.

But I have to ask: Since when has corruption been a license to murder? And even if it were so, shouldn’t government institutions and agencies be the first to be depopulated?

And while it is true that, in the end, ethics is a personal choice, often overlooked is the fact that corruption does not spring out of a vacuum. There is, indeed, an urgent need to look into the lack of ethics in our ranks. But there is just as urgent – if not more – need to look into the equally serious lack of ethics among media owners and managements.

How can ethics take root and thrive when infotainment and ratings trump real information and public service, when media outfits knowingly hire the unqualified and unskilled because they are cheaper, when many media workers struggle to survive on less than the legal minimum and hardly any benefits, when a media outfit requires its workers to seek ads / or farms them out to clients, when stories are killed because they are deemed inimical to media owners or their allies, when block time continues to be sold to and bought by political and business interests to attack their foes?

The truth is, many of the travails faced by the working press spring from the same malevolent social, economic and political power structure that defines what passed for governance in our benighted land. Even as they often are the ones the oppressed turn to for help, journalists too are among the most oppressed.

Last week, several of our colleagues from a major television network found themselves suddenly jobless. As of our last count, there are already more than 250 of them retrenched. The reason given was “strategic streamlining” geared toward “increasing ratings and revenues.”

For me, for NUJP, for us who are campaigning to improve the condition of the working press and defend the right of the people to a free press – and let me make this very clear – this is not an issue of Kapuso, Kapamilya or Kapatid.

What we know is that it is something that can happen to any of us, any time. As in any industry, the drive to maximize earnings has come at the expense of the workers, leading to the erosion of job security and welfare, with contractualization increasingly becoming the norm, even in the largest media outfits.

Before I end, let me go back to Mary Jane. Reporting to netizens the reprieve that had been given to Mary Jane Veloso last night, the petition campaign platform change.org said in its website something that resonated in me. It said, “Miracles happen when people choose to stand for justice.”

This is now what journalists AND THE PUBLIC must do.

We, media workers, should close ranks and zealously defend our rights and welfare and the dignity of journalists and the press. In so doing, we are also defending our people whose right to information is our utmost priority. Together with the public, we choose to stand for the people’s rights.

April 29, 2015 · Posted in: General

Tragic 2014 for press freedom

66 journalists killed, 119 kidnapped, 178 jailed last year

As the celebration for World Press Freedom approaches, we are reposting this artricle first posted on the PCIJ blog on December 17, 2014.

THE WORLD in 2014 has been most bloody and most cruel to both journalists and citizen-journalisis.

In all, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB or Reporters Sans Frontieres), the numbers are most grave:

* Killed: 66 journalists, 19 citizen-journalists, and 11 media workers
* Kidnapped: 119 journalists and 8 citizen-journalists
* Imprisoned: 178 journalists and 178 citizen-journalists
* Arrested: 853 journalists and 122 citizen-journalists
* Threatened and attacked: 1,856 journalists.

RWB, in its latest “Round-up of Abuses Against Journalists” noted a slight fall in the number of journalists killed in connection with their work, but also “an evolution in the nature of violence against journalists and the way certain kinds, including carefully-staged threats and beheadings, are being used for very clear purposes.”

According to RWB, “the murders are becoming more and more barbaric and the number of abductions is growing rapidly, with those carrying them out seeking to prevent independent news coverage and deter scrutiny by the outside world.”

RWB said “the beheadings of US and Iraqi journalists in 2014 testified to the scale of the violence that can be used against unwanted witnesses. Rarely have reporters been murdered with such a barbaric sense of propaganda, shocking the entire world.”

The 66 professional journalists killed in connection with their work in 2014 was 7 percent fewer than in 2013.

About 93 percent of those killed were salaried journalists, and 7 percent freelancers. Ninety percent of those killed were foreign journalists, and 10 percent, local journalists.

However, RWB said two-thirds of the casualties in 2014 were killed in war zones, including Syria (which continues to the world’s deadliest country for journalists), the Palestinian Territories (especially Gaza), eastern Ukraine, Iraq and Libya.

The number of journalists kidnapped in 2014, or 119, marked a 30 percent increase from the 2013 figure of 87.

Of those abducted in 2014, RWB said 90 percent are local journalists. To this day, at least 40 journalists and three citizen-journalists are still being held hostage across the world. Of the 22 journalists currently being held by armed groups in Syria, 16 are Syrians. All of the eight journalists currently held hostage in Iraq are Iraqis.

Most of the kidnapping cases were in the Middle East and North Africa, with 29 in Libya, 27 in Syria and 20 in Iraq. The chief causes were Islamic State’s offensive in Iraq and Syria, and the turmoil in Libya, where the clashes between rival militias have not let up.

Many journalists have also been kidnapped in Ukraine, mainly in the east of the country, where the conflict continued despite the ceasefire announced there in September.

Of the 853 journalists arrested in 2014, RWB said at least 47 were working in Ukraine, 46 in Egypt, 45 in Iran, 45 in Nepal, 34 in Venezuela, and 636 in the rest of the world.

Of the 178 professional journalists in prison as of Dec. 8, 2014, at least 29 are working in China, 28 in Eritrea, 19 in Iran, 16 in Egypt, 13 in Syria, and 73 in the rest of the world. Exactly the same number or 178 citizen-journalists were recorded by RWB to be in prison worldwide as of the same date.

In the face of “such diverse forms of intimidation,” RWF said, “twice as many Journalists had fled into exile this year as in 2013.” A total of 139 professional journalists and 20 citizen-journalists contacted RWB and said they had to flee abroad in 2014 for fear of their safety. Of the total, 43 came from Libya, 37 from Syria, and 31 from Ethiopia.

RWB said two developments deserve highlighting:

* Fewer journalists were killed in countries “at peace,” notably in Mexico, India and Philippines; and

* The number of women journalists killed doubled, from three last year to six this year.

The women journalists were killed in Central African Republic, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan and Philippines. A woman citizen-journalist was also killed in Mexico after being kidnapped by gunmen.

By country, the most deadly places for journalists in 2014, according to RWB, are: Syria, where 15 journalists were killed in 2014; Palestine, 7; Ukraine, 6; Iraq, 4; and Libya, 4. In the rest of the world, 30 other journalists had been killed.

RWB said the top five countries where the largest numbers of journalists had been arrested and jailed in 2014 are: China, 29; Eritrea, 28; Iran, 19; Egypt, 16; and Syria, 13. In the rest of the world, 73 other journalists had been imprisoned.

The top five countries where the largest numbers of journalists had been kidnapped in 2014 are: Ukraine, 33; Libya, 29; Syria, 27; Iraq, 20; and Mexico, 3. In the rest of the world, 4 other journalists had been kidnapped.

Five cases marked the degree of terror that journalists confronted in 2014, according to RWB. These are the cases of:

* Raad Azaoui: An Iraqi cameraman working for Sama Salah Aldeen TV, Raad Mohamed Al-Azaoui was publicly executed on 10 October for refusing to cooperate with Islamic State, which tolerates only dead or compliant journalists. Aged 36 and a father, he was executed together with his brother and two other civilians in the IS-controlled Iraqi city of Samara a month after being captured along with around 20 other Iraqis. IS had announced its intention to execute him ever since his abduction.

* Gao Yu. Well-known Chinese journalist Gao Yu, 70, is being tried on a charge of divulging state secrets to German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle. At her first hearing, on 21 November in Beijing, she pleaded not guilty, thereby retracting the forced confession that CCTV News broadcast in May. The first journalist to receive UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Prize in 1997, Gao has already spent seven years in prison. If found guilty, she could be facing a 15-year sentence.

* Khadija Ismaïlova. An investigative journalist who has covered high-level corruption, Khadija Ismayilova has been detained since 5 December. She feared she might be arrested but nothing could convince this media freedom symbol to leave the country for which she has fought for years with rare courage and persistence. Her reporting and defence of human rights turned her into a priority target for the government. In 2012 and 2013 she was the victim of a smear campaign and blackmail attempts with a sex tape. The pressure intensified this year, when she was accused of spying, charged with defamation, arrested and prevented from travelling abroad. And now, finally, she is being held on the absurd charge of “pushing” a former colleague to attempt suicide, a charge that carries a possible sentence of three to seven years in jail.

* James Foley: On 19 August, Islamic State released a horrifying video of US hostage James Foley being beheaded. Foley, 40, was a reporter for the Global Post news website and Agence France-Presse. Posted online, the carefully staged video was designed to put pressure on the US government and included a threat to similarly execute Steven Sotloff, a US journalist held in Syria since the summer of 2013. A video of Sotloff being dispatched in the same way was released exactly two weeks later.

* Raef Badawi: A Saudi citizen-journalist and winner of the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize, Raef Badawi has been held since 2012 on a charge of “insulting Islam” for promoting liberal ideas on his website, the Liberal Saudi Network. Aged 30 and the father of three children, he was sentenced by a Riyadh court in September to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a heavy fine. In response to this inhuman sentence, which violates international law, RWB has launched a petition calling on King Abdullah to pardon him.

Since 1995, RWB has been publishing its annual round-up of violence and abuses against journalists that RWF “based on precise data that RWB gathers in the course of its monitoring.” It includes figures for both professional and citizen-journalists killed in connection with their reporting. RWB continues to investigate cases when it has not yet gathered enough information to reach a clear determination.

Earl G. Parreno

THEY are some of the most destructive land reclamation projects in the country. But unlike other planned developments that have become controversial because of their adverse impact on the environment, these are all taking place almost under the radar. China’s land reclamation projects on reefs, islets and rocks in the Spratly Islands—and their impact not just on the country’s national, but more significantly, food security—are hardly catching the public’s attention.

Sunset on the South China Sea off M?i Né village on the south-east coast of Vietnam | Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Sunset on the South China Sea off M?i Né village on the south-east coast of Vietnam | Photo from en.wikipedia.org

Yet, China’s aggressive action in the disputed areas in the South China Sea may lead to a catastrophic collapse of marine biodiversity and fishery in this part of the globe.

“This issue goes beyond territorial dispute,” says Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace. “Reclamation projects in biodiversity impact areas are irresponsible.”

Cinches says that China’s reclamation in the South China Sea, now estimated to have reached 311 hectares, are destroying some US$100 million a year of what is called the Coral Reef Ecosystem Services, quoting a study conducted by Emeritus Prof. Edgardo D. Gomez of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute.

Ecosystem services are direct and indirect contribution of the ecosystem to the survival and quality of human life. They include food and other raw materials the ecosystem provides, as well as its role in regulating climate and moderating ecological disturbances.

Concretely, the reclamation of 311 hectares would translate into a 20 percent reduction of fish catch in the area. It could affect more than 12,000 fishers in four provinces of the country namely, Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan and Palawan. In 2014, some 21,186.8 metric tons of fish were harvested in the South China Sea, according to estimates by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). This could go down to just 17,000 metric tons this year, based on Greenpeace’s figures.

But China, which is claiming 85.7 percent of the 3.5 million-hectare South China Sea as its own, is planning to build bigger islands from the reefs and underwater rocks. This would mean greater destruction to the reef ecosystem in the area. For instance, in Mischief Reef (also called Panganiban Reef), just 112 nautical miles from Palawan and well within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, China has built an artificial islet that now measures around 3.2 hectares. Based on satellite photos, this reclamation project, which started only in January this year, can reach at least 500 hectares when done. China has reclamation activities on seven reefs in the Spratly’s at present.

View the lecture of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio on the South China Sea issue below.

“Reefs are the breeding ground of fish,” says Cinches, “but the Spratly Islands is also important in larval dispersal.” He explains that when the eggs spawned by the fish on the reefs in the Spratly’s are hatched these are carried by the ocean currents to as far as Indonesia where they grow and mature.

“Destroying the reef ecosystem in the Spratly Islands affects the fish supply not just in our country but in the neighboring countries as well,” Cinches points out.

China contends that the reclamations are intended to “improve the living and working conditions of those stationed on the islands.” When it occupied Mischief Reef in 1995, it rationalized its action by saying that the reef will provide “shelter” to its fishermen. Several years on, however, Chinese troops stationed in the reef are shooing away Filipino fishers trying to make a living from the bountiful marine resources in the area. In fact, China has appropriated for itself the fishery resources in the whole South China Sea, with its heavily armed coast guard fleets patrolling the area.

Indeed, China’s aggressive action in the South China Sea is not only gobbling up Philippine territory. It is also eating up the country’s fish supply. A grave matter that the public should know, and act on.