THE International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recently declared that 2006 was a “year of tragedy for the world’s media” as the number of journalists and media staff killed “reached historic levels with at least 155 murders, assassinations, and unexplained deaths.”

According to IFJ General Secretary Aidan White: “2006 was the worst year on record — a year of targeting, brutality, and continued impunity in the killing of journalists.”

In the Philippines alone, IFJ said 13 journalists died last year, bringing to 49 the number of media practitioners murdered since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. This number, IFJ reported, surpasses the numbers killed during the Marcos regime.

This also makes the country the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, second only to Iraq. In that war-torn country, 68 media staff had been killed, bringing to 170 the number killed since the invasion in April 2003. There is also continuing violence against journalists in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Africa, IFJ said.

In a book entitled “Limited Protection: Press Freedom and Philippine Law” recently launched by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Executive Director Melinda de Jesus said that “despite the high profile given media personalities, many journalists remain vulnerable to manipulation and harassment, their freedom and lives subject to threats and attacks.”

The CMFR lists 61 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986; 31 had been murdered since 2001. (Note: IFJ figures are based on the total number of journalists killed and makes no distinction whether they were killed in the performance of their duty.)

De Jesus said unprecedented threats came in the form of officials banning media critics from covering their activities; judges declaring journalists “in contempt” for negative reports on decisions or their conduct; mayors ordering radio stations closed for alleged violations of business regulations; and recently, Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017 which authorized the takeover of the offices of a newspaper.

“None of these violations have provoked public outrage,” she said.

“In the communities journalists claim to serve, the apathy of much of the citizenry is as plain: It is an apathy so pronounced it validates the view that the press’ own flaws have led to the widespread criticism over its claim that it is an invaluable public asset,” wrote journalism professor Luis Teodoro in the book’s chapter, “Understanding the Culture of Impunity.”

“No media organization or practitioner has ever claimed that the press is perfect. Philippine journalism does teem with dishonest and inept practitioners, many of them in the provincial press who can’t tell the difference between a summary lead and a summary execution,” he wrote, “But to imply that a journalist should be shot to death is somewhat like suggesting that a taxi driver who crosses a red light deserves a lethal injection.”

Teodoro said the killings have “steadily eroded the Philippine press’ reputation for freedom,” causing the rank of the Philippines in the press freedom index of the Reporters Without Borders to slide from 139th in 2005 to 142nd among 200 countries in 2006. In 2002, the country ranked 89th.

“The culture of impunity today is almost exclusively used to explain the continuing assassination of journalists in the Philippines,” he said, “It is based on a paradox: Its power is rooted in the weakness of the Philippine justice system. But equally evident is the feeble will on the part of the political authority to protect citizens including journalists.” (See post: Looking beyond the killings.)

Teodoro further said media groups have observed that “the key reason for the continuing killing of journalists is still the near-zero arrest, trial and conviction of their killers.”

Since the restoration of democracy in 1986, there have only been three convictions of killings in the country. Police have claimed, however, that most of the cases have been solved; for them, a case is considered solved once a suspect — usually the assassin, not the mastermind — had been identified.

Teodoro said even the recent conviction of the killers of General Santos City journalist Marlene Esperat could not have been made possible without the advocacy of journalists’ and media groups and the coverage it got from the national press. The mastermind however remains unidentified.

The CMFR observed that “in no cases were the masterminds who ordered the killings even charged, much less tried, although there were strong suspicions in a number of cases as to who these were.”

Journalistic issues

Once known as the “freest press in Asia,” Teodoro said the unabated killings and “the increasing use” of libel law to harass and intimidate journalists have caused the country’s reputation altered.

Starting in 2003, First Gentleman Joe Miguel Arroyo has sued 45 journalists, editors, and columnists (See related posts here and here.)

Though clearly a harassment, co-author and laywer Raul Pangalangan however said during the book’s launching that it is also a cause for worry “when libel laws do not work at all.”

“Many (of those killed) were provincial-based journalists, A.M. radio broadcasters. One possibility is that normally they should have simply been sued for libel but maybe their enemies had taken recourse to the more desperate measures because they felt that a libel suit would not have worked (anyway),” he said.

While it should not be a reason for killing media practitioners, De Jesus said journalists, broadcasters in particular, should refrain from “the use of purple prose that Filipinos have happened identify with courageous, feisty, hard-hitting journalism.”

De Jesus said what’s sad is that there are radio program directors and television program managers who think that they will lose their audience if they were to change the particular style in which some of the most popular radio hosts and commentators do.

“We need to turn that culture around and say ‘let’s stop calling names, let’s stop being so dramatic and sensational, let’s just present those facts that are going to show them for what they are,'” she said.

Though fully aware of the failings of the press, De Jesus said the CMFR holds that the growth and development of a free press must be assisted by the growth of its protection in the law.

“If the laws are weak in the protection of journalists, it is not only the journalists who are endangered; we are all vulnerable,” she said.

Lawyer Ismael Khan Jr., also one of the authors, said that at the very least, laws on libel — though yet to be decriminalized — have been liberalized through the years though legislative enactments and decisions of the Supreme Court.

One significant example is the exceptions to the “presumption of malice” clause under the Revised Penal Code. Khan wrote that under this principle, the accused must rebut the presumption by convincing the court that his or her intention was good and he or she had a justifiable motive.

He said there have been cases where the High Court ruled that it is “the offended party who must prove malice to make his or her case.”

But Khan said bigger questions remain: “Why should there be a presumption of malice at all? Likewise, why must other media executives who have nothing to do with the writing of the offending article be haled to court as well?” He said there is indeed a need to rationalize many of the provisions in the libel law.

Protecting journalists

Pangalangan however said efforts at press freedom will be frustrated if institutions — the police, judiciary, local governments — remain weak, even with reformed legal guarantees in place.

In the case of Pagadian journalist Edgar Damalerio, for example, Teodoro said “normal institutional processes…were practically inoperative because of the lethal combination of police involvement, the flabby justice system, central government indifference, and the climate of fear in Pagadian.”

Damalerio was murdered in 2002. A police officer was convicted for committing the crime on the orders of his superior.

Teodoro added that had it not been for groups like the CMFR which engaged authorities in Manila into acting on the case, “it would have eventually withered away like so many murder cases in the Philippines.”

Teodoro listed steps that should be taken to prevent further killings:

1. Provide legal assistance to the families of victims. This includes hiring competent lawyers who could pursue pending cases as private prosecutors. It is also important and urgent that the law curriculum be reformed to better educate future lawyers on, and encourage their advocacy of, press freedom issues.

2. Maintain a continuing media advocacy and journalist group presence to show local courts and prosecutors that they’re being monitored.

3. Assure the protection of witnesses by campaigning for the strengthening of the under-funded Witness Protection Program of the justice department.

4. There should be an effort to enhance the training and education of media practitioners.

5. Engage the community in media monitoring and enhance its understanding of the importance of a free press in governance and democracy.

7 Responses to 2006: The ‘worst year’ for journalists

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freewheel

January 5th, 2007 at 6:59 pm

My humble suggestions to prevent further killings:

Manila or big urban cities based journalists should put a stop on this feeling superior complex among themselves vis-a-vis provincial practioners.

Broadsheets columnists, in countless occasions, often devote disparaging remarks LONGER in their spaces towards their provincial counterparts, than condoling with the victims families.

In unity there’s strength, but the trait is rarely found among practioners of journalism; too many opposing groups, instead of relying on each other, grasping for each other throats sometimes becomes the norm (we don’t have to look far, see the sorry state of ‘Palawan radio journalist killed’ thread).

Training and continuing education for media people should not be limited to those in the provinces, who actually does not deserve being the butts of many sick jokes.

The bigger challenge now is how to put a stop on people, the huge portion of the populace, infected seemingly with widespread apathy and disinterest, and start asking the why’s.

Vibrant communities, poli-economically, are without exception always a confluence of people’s active participation in its affairs.

Ordinary folks voice should be accorded weight, comparable if not better, to those who are better positioned socially. The media must ensure this setup, for only then its presence gain relevance and protected by the community.

When practioners of media allow themselves, wittingly or otherwise, be a tool for repressing a plain citizen’s voice in the affairs of a community, unknowingly journalists may have forfeited its rights to be heard, too.

Thus, when murders/killings occur in a community where there is minimal people’s participation or none at all in its’ affairs, finding justice for the victims are in its hardest–apathetic community members are wont to talk, much less testify.

Maybe, practioners must first reckon where their interest lies as part of their education. Is it on the side of those being governed, or those who govern?

Problem begins, when he will try to convince himself that he will take the middle ground.

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Leo

January 6th, 2007 at 11:56 am

Sa kasalukuyang takbo ng panahon ang mga pagpatay na nagaganap sa kabuuan hindi lamang sa mga journalist ay may kaugnayan sa napakatinding kahirapan na dinaranas ng sambayanan. Noon pinapatay ang isang journalist dahil sa kasalungat na prinsipyo na ayaw tanggapin ng mga nasa likod ng krimen at kakaunti ang tumatanggap ng kontrata na patayin ang isang journalist sa utos ng kalabang prinsipyo. Ibig sabihin, kahit kriminal ay ay nakakaintindi pa rin ng salitang prinsipyo. Subalit sa ngayon ay hindi, konting barya lang , mapunan lang ang kalam ng sikmura papatay sila , maibsan lang ang gutom, wala na ang prinsipyo, wala na ang katinuan ang natitira na lang ay ang pagkalam ng sikmura. Dumami ang bilang ng mga ganitong uri ng mga kriminal, kaya makakaasa tayo na mas marami pang journalist na mabubuwal sa gitna ng kadiliman. Doblehin ang pag-iingat iyon na lamang ang tanging solusyon, at ang suporta na maibibigay ng mga kapulisan natin.

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naykika

January 8th, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Can we expect the year 2007 be better or will break the record?

In the Philippines, unless the Justice systems become serious and start dealing with these “sanamagans” seriously and put them all (masterminds down to the look-outs) to where they belong, it could only get worse. But then they all now become indistinguisible. I mean the cops and the bad guys.

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mac.bh

January 8th, 2007 at 6:25 pm

There is one thing not clear, what is the main reason why journalists are being killed?

What are the factors that contributed to the killing? Political? Financial, Economics? Personal?

If the reason for killing is national politics then why is it that big time journalist are not the target and instead those killed are the small player? Why does journalist look for police protection when the police forces are the main source of their daily half baked scrutiny?

Unless the real reason is identified, solution can not be applied properly. But one thing is for sure, many journalists are practicing their profession in the dark alley. Many have two faces, and many are simply over the bound of the unwritten code of journalism.

Probably the answer to the question and the solution for the killing are the journalist themselves, why then involve the common people who have nothing to do with the journalist affair at the back of the door.

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FrancisLantin

January 10th, 2007 at 7:21 am

It’s been said on the http://www.ifj.org/
site that many journalists were gunned down by local law enforcers… on the payroll of corrupt official(s), businessmen or landowners, who have come under the scrutiny of the former.

No wonder these henchmen act out with such impunity… they’re protected by powerful players on the political arena.

If the Phil goes on like this, Good Honest TruthSeeking Pinoy Journalists will enter an era of mass extinction…the country will become a Banana Republic where reigns Paranoia nourished by Mainstreem Propaganda.

You might compare it now to the USA in the 1950’s, or the URSS during the cold war, dark periods when freedom of speech, of opinion was oriented to serve ideology and/or personnal (political)interests. Use of force etc…

Always sad to say that for more 40 years now since the marcos regime, democracy -as seen elsewhere- has not really florished in this part of the world.

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Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Philippine free press under attack

January 11th, 2007 at 3:33 am

[…] Bryanton Post writes about the world report describing 2006 as the “worst year for the press in more than a decade”. Inside PCIJ also links a report on the situation of the Philippine press: “Thirteen journalists died last year, bringing to 49 the number of media practitioners murdered since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. This number surpasses the numbers killed during the Marcos regime (1965-1986). This also makes the country the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, second only to Iraq.” Mong Palatino […]

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January 14th, 2007 at 5:10 pm

[…] Bryanton Post???????????2006??????????????????????Inside PCIJ??????????????????? ???????13?????????????Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo??2001????????49??????????????????1965-1986??????????????????????????????? […]

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