The PHILIPPINES did it again — slipped 7 points but this time, in a global index of media freedom and freedom of information.
The country’s ranking in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index dropped in rank from 140 in 2012 to 147 in the latest report that covers 179 nations of the world.
Released today, Wednesday, by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) the Index placed the Philippines in the “red” zone of nations where the state of media freedom and freedom of information stand significant improvement.
The Philippines came ahead of countries that all, except for Burma, scored lower in the 2013 Index. These are Russia, Singapore, Iraq, Burma, Gambia, Mexico, Turkey, Swaziland, and Azerbaijan that were ranked No. 148 to 156.
However, the Philippines just trailed nations, some newer and weaker democracies, in the latest Index, notably India, Oman, DR Congo, Cambodia, Bangladesh Malaysia, and Palestine that were ranked No. 141 to 146 in the latest Index.
Thailand landed at No. 138, and Indonesia, No. 141, although both had launched their reformasi and democratization movements years after the EDSA people power revolt of 1986 in the Philippines.
In the 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders said it was publishing for the first time an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom.
“This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom,” it said.
“In view of the emergence of new technologies and the interdependence of governments and peoples, the freedom to produce and circulate news and information needs to be evaluated at the planetary as well as national level. Today, in 2013, the media freedom “indicator” stands at 3395, a point of reference for the years to come.”
The indicator can also be broken down by region and, it added, “by means of weighting based on the population of each region, can be used to produce a score from zero to 100 in which zero represents total respect for media freedom. This produces a score of 17.5 for Europe, 30.0 for the Americas, 34.3 for Africa, 42.2 for Asia-Pacific and 45.3 for the former Soviet republics.”
However, “despite the Arab springs, the Middle East and North Africa region comes last with 48.5.”
The year 2012 was “the deadliest year ever registered by Reporters Without Borders in its annual roundup,” citing “the high number of journalists and netizens killed in the course of their work.” This factor “naturally had a significant impact on the ranking of the countries where these murders took place, above all Somalia (175th, -11), Syria (176th, 0), Mexico (153rd, -4) and Pakistan (159th, -8).”
Founded in France in 1985 by four journalists, and registered in 1995 as a non-profit organization, Reporters Without Borders has correspondents in 150 countries of the world today.
Its statement of purpose declares that, “freedom of expression and of information will always be the world’s most important freedom.”
On its official website, the group says: “If journalists were not free to report the facts, denounce abuses and alert the public, how would we resist the problem of children-soldiers, defend women’s rights, or preserve our environment? In some countries, torturers stop their atrocious deeds as soon as they are mentioned in the media. In others, corrupt politicians abandon their illegal habits when investigative journalists publish compromising details about their activities. Still elsewhere, massacres are prevented when the international media focuses its attention and cameras on events.”
“Freedom of information is the foundation of any democracy. Yet almost half of the world’s population is still denied it,” it adds.
The 2013 Index did not offer a specific section on the state of media freedom in the Philippines. However, in its 2011-12 Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines No. 140 (out of 179 countries surveyed), noting that, “the (Aquino) government that took over in July 2010 has not yet responded effectively to the media’s problems.”
Last year’s Index averred that, “threats and violence against local radio station hosts (including physical attacks and murders) and the culture of impunity represent the biggest obstacles to media freedom.”
Paramilitary groups and privately-owned militias, which were included in the 2011 list of Predators of Press Freedom, “have been implicated in most of the attacks on journalists since democracy was restored in 1986,” the group said. “Corruption facilitates the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for violence against journalists. Politicians maintain links with criminal networks. The judicial system is not sufficiently independent.”
According to the 2012 Index, “difficulty accessing information, self-censorship and journalists’ low pay also pose serious problems for the independence of newspapers, which are often influenced or controlled by powerful business and political interests.”
The group had lamented that, “the trial of 96 people accused of planning and carrying out the 23 November 2009 massacre in Maguindanao province, in which 32 journalists were killed, has been under way for more than a year without anyone being convicted yet.”
Reporters Without Borders also noted the opposition to the right of reply bill pending in Congress that media organizations have called an “act of terrorism against the media,” as well as “the revised criminal code and the witness protection program constitute obstacles to media freedom and give the authorities the power to silence undesired voices.”
In the Philippines, “the environment for journalists is marked by fear and violence,” the 2011-12 report said. “The prevailing impunity, particularly on the island of Mindanao, one of the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists, is holding back the process of improving the media freedom situation and the right to information.”
Last year’s Index stressed that President Aquino had promised during a meeting in August 2010 with the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to take the “necessary concrete measures” to stop the killings.