Forty news organizations and over 300 individual journalists pledged to protect the 2022 elections from disinformation, cheating, corruption, partisan interests, and other threats to democracy.
They also committed to stand in solidarity with each other when news organizations or reporters face harassment over critical reportage of candidates and their campaigns.
The journalists gathered in a webinar on Saturday, July 17, and released a statement that underscores the role of independent media during another critical moment in the country.
“Credible elections need credible media; conversely, corrupted media can further corrupt politics,” the pledge read.
Economist and columnist Solita Monsod, who hosted the webinar, emphasized the need to close ranks and uphold press freedom amid attacks under the current administration.
International organization Reporters without Borders included President Rodrigo Duterte in its 2021 “Press Freedom Predators” gallery. His government shut down television network ABS-CBN, arrested Rappler CEO Maria and former research-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. over cyber libel charges, and went after the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s ownership.
Pia Ranada, Rappler’s Malacañang reporter, expressed concerns that Duterte’s antagonism towards critical reporters would encourage and influence candidates and other public officials to do the same.
“I think that we, as journalists, have to find a way to support other journalists when this (attacks) happens. Those reporters don’t have to go through it alone,” Ranada said during the webinar.
Ranada continues to be banned from entering the Palace premises. She and other Rappler reporters have been excluded from Viber groups of politicians and government offices.
The pandemic also exacerbated challenges faced by media organizations under the current administration.
Veteran journalist Carolyn Aguillas lamented how several community newspapers in Mindanao were forced to downsize, retrench employees, or stop operations altogether. Many Mindanaoan employees of ABS-CBN's regional stations were retrenched. Many Mindanaoan television viewers were also robbed of their source of information and entertainment, she said.
ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Jeff Canoy opened up about ‘survivor’s guilt’ as many of his friends and colleagues lost their jobs due to the shutdown.
Despite the challenges, Canoy said reporters at the network will continue to be independent and critical of the government and of the candidates in the 2022 elections.
Canoy also called for unity among journalists. “We are at another crossroads," he said.
"Ang tanong: mananatili ba tayong watak-watak, kanya-kanya, kebs lang sa kapwang journalists? O magtutulungan ba tayo mananidigan para hindi lang natin sabihin, ‘Buhay pa tayo’ but ‘Buhay na buhay ‘yung journalism dito sa Pilipinas (The question is: Do we remain divided and oblivious to each other’s challenges? Or do we unite and fight together to keep journalism alive),’” he said.
The journalists also recognized the need to change the way the Philippine media covers elections. They pledged to focus on issues instead of personalities, and examine the track record and qualifications of candidates and political parties.
They also committed to correct falsehoods in candidates’ statements, and avoid amplifying hate speech and incitements to violence.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and its staff are among those who signed the pledge. – Maria Cecilia O. Pagdanganan
— PCIJ, July 2021