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In Philippines’ War on Media, Maria Ressa ‘Holds the Line’

ByiPinoy Media

In Philippines’ War on Media, Maria Ressa ‘Holds the Line’

The veteran war correspondent and CEO of online news portal ‘Rappler’ is among Time’s ‘2018 Person of the Year’.

“Independence is no small thing. It marks the distinction between tyranny and democracy,” writesKarl Vick in Time magazine on press freedom and why “The Guardians” – Jamal Khashoggi, the staff of Capital Gazette, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – are Time‘s ‘2018 Person of the Year’.

Ressa, 55, a veteran war correspondent and the CEO of online news portal Rappler, is on the cover of Time for her outspoken criticism of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime. Rappler has been a leading opponent of President Duterte’s “war on drugs” that has led to the extrajudicial killings of more than 12,000 people, according to the Human Rights Watch.

In November, Philippine authorities reported that they have grounds to indict Rappler and its co-founder Ressa on charges of tax evasion and failure to file returns. On December 11, she posted bail for four of these charges. Ressa could face up to ten years in prison.

The charges against Ressa, she says, are meant to threaten and intimidate her.

This is not the only uphill legal battle the news website is facing against the government. In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had ordered for the revocation of Rappler’s registration for violation of Philippine laws that bar any foreign ownership and control of local media. The Rappler continues to operate. Ressa has challenged the SEC’s accusations for giving the decision “without due process.”

Duterte has denied the involvement of his government in the Commission’s decision, according to local news reports. Nevertheless, a month after, he banned the website from covering any official presidential palace events.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, when questioned by reporters on Ressa’s recognition by Time, reportedly said: “That’s the call of the awarding organisation; it has its basis for awarding certain people.”

“Since there are still critics attacking the administration, criticising the administration, the freedom of expression in this country is a robust one,” added Panelo when asked by Rapplerto comment on press freedom in the Philippines. “Nobody has been prosecuted for criticising the administration. Those who have been charged are in connection not with their freedom of expression but for the commission of crimes”.

State of press freedom in the Philippines

Journalism has always been a dangerous job in the Philippines. A 2016 report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) found it to be the second-most dangerous beat for reporters in the past 25 years. Only Iraq was higher on the list.

Few Filipinos have forgotten the Maguindanao massacre of 2009, where 32 journalists, along with 25 civilians were murdered by members of the Ampatuan clan, in what is considered the single-deadliest attack on journalists globally. While the key suspect of the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Sr., died in custody in 2015, the rest of the perpetrators remain on trial.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has listed the Philippines as fifth on its 2018 Global Impunity Index that ranks “states with the worst records of prosecuting the killers of journalists.” Since 1992, 78 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines. In 66 of these cases, the suspects were not prosecuted and the killers walked away with complete impunity.

In 2016, when questioned about the high number of attacks on journalists, Duterte said that they deserved it, reports BBC. “You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong,” he said.

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