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[B-SIDE Podcast]: Press freedom in PHL: Challenges, impact, and way forward

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The Philippines needs to work on ensuring the safety and freedom of journalists to report reliable developments on national issues, despite its improved world press freedom ranking in six years, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said.

In this B-Side episode, NUJP Chairperson Jonathan de Santos discusses the current roadblocks to a free press in the Philippines and its potential impact on investors and the economy with BusinessWorld reporter John Victor D. Ordoñez.


“There has been some improvement in dealing with the media in the Philippines, in the sense that the government isn’t as hostile to the press as before,” said Mr. De Santos.

The country ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 World Press Freedom Index, released on May 3. It was 147th last year.

Although this is a welcome development, Filipinos need to remember that attacks on the media are still common, noted Mr. De Santos.

“These attacks are still grim reminders that press freedom is something for which we need to struggle,” he said. “We cannot be complacent about things like this.”

A free press bodes well for the economy.

Mr. De Santos said the government has to consider that investors may look at press freedom metrics as a major factor in doing business in the Philippines.

“It is good to be seen as a rights-respecting country as the government is trying to improve the country’s image after the previous administration.”

The worsening human rights indicators could jeopardize the country’s trade privileges with international bodies such as the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) with the European Union, he also said.

GSP+ requires the Philippines to uphold commitments to 27 international conventions encompassing human rights, labor, good governance, and climate action.

“The human rights record of a country will affect aspects such as aid and trade promotion with other countries,” Mr. De Santos said.

Hurdles still persist for Filipino journalists.

Mr. De Santos cited the need for the decriminalization of libel, which he said is often used against journalists.

He mentioned the libel case against Rappler Chief Executive Offficer Maria A. Ressa, which he said had a significant impact on how the world perceived press freedom in the Philippines.

“There was a lot of international pressure on the government to drop the charges.”

The NUJP has filed a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration law, citing privacy concerns.

Mr. De Santos said that media workers have been urging Congress to pass laws that would safeguard the right to organize within the workplace and ensure the safety of journalists during coverage.

“We are drowning in white noise, and it has become more challenging to capture the reader’s attention,” said the NUJP chief on the impact of social media on news delivery.

Without a free press, people would have less informed lives.

“If we don’t have press freedom and we’re labeled as bashers or haters, it will be more difficult to address our needs because the government won’t pay attention to these problems,” said Mr. De Santos.

Journalism is under attack worldwide, and Filipino media practitioners have been actively fostering solidarity to defend the free press, he added.

The NUJP has been collaborating with six journalism organizations in Southeast Asia to gather information on media attacks, with the aim of identifying trends in the region on how governments treat journalists.

“Governments from Southeast Asia are learning from each other on how to silence dissent, and we hope to develop a similar playbook for the media.”

“It has been a challenging couple of years, and many of us are questioning whether it is still worthwhile to remain in this profession,” Mr. De Santos said.

He also emphasized the importance of journalists forming support groups to advocate for improved working conditions in the media.

“You can’t do this alone,” he addressed Filipino journalists. “Always remember who we are doing this for, and ultimately, we are serving the public.”

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