PHL’s 2023 press freedom rank hits best in 6 years

THE PHILIPPINES remained a “difficult” country for journalists despite improving its 2023 global ranking to its highest in six years, based on the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) latest World Press Freedom Index released on Wednesday. 

The country moved up 15 spots to 132nd out of 180 countries, its highest placement since it ranked 127th in 2017. It was 147th last year.

The Philippines garnered an overall score of 46.21 out of a possible 100, which is considered a “difficult” country for journalists, according to the RSF report based on a survey of press freedom experts, including journalists and academics. 

It ranked the ninth lowest in the east and southeast Asian region, ahead of Hong Kong, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, and North Korea. 

“The Philippines media are extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment, since 2016, of journalists and media outlets that are too critical,” Reporters Without Borders said in its index posted on its website.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said human rights violations against media practitioners continue under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s administration.

“Since the Duterte administration, there have been attempts to convince colleagues to disaffiliate from groups like the NUJP and outright attempts to paint the independent and alternative press as enemies of the state,” it said in a statement on May 3, observed as World Press Freedom Day.

Carol Claudio, executive assistant of Presidential Communications Office chief Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil, did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

The NUJP cited that despite the recent acquittal of Rappler founder Maria A. Ressa from tax evasion charges, many journalists still face threats of violence and lawsuits.

The Court of Tax Appeals in January acquitted Ms. Ressa and her news outlet of tax evasion due to lack of evidence. The journalist still faces cyber-libel charges, which is punishable by more than six years in prison.

As of April 30, the NUJP said there were 60 reported cases of harassment, red-tagging and other cases of censorship against media practitioners in the Philippines.

In a separate statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) called on the government to implement measures to guarantee the freedom of the press.

It also urged the courts to immediately deliver justice for the killing of local broadcaster Percival C. Mabasa, who was shot by two assassins on his way home in October last year.

“As challenges grow, journalists in the Philippines and abroad continue to risk their lives to report the truth and inform the public,” FOCAP said.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. last week ordered the new national police chief, Benjamin C. Acorda, Jr., to prioritize protecting journalists and civic groups.

“Defend our democratic institutions, our cherished ideals,” the president said in his speech during Mr. Acorda’s appointment.

The Philippines remained the seventh worst country in the world where journalist killers get away with murder, New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists said in November.

The global watchdog said at least 85 Filipino journalists were killed between 1992 and 2022, of which 14 are still unsolved.

The Council for People’s Development has said impunity in the Philippines impedes freedom of expression and the people’s right to access reliable information.

The Department of Justice has said the Marcos administration would continue its probe of violence against journalists through the country’s task force on media protection.

“On World Press Freedom Day and despite all these, we remind ourselves that we will continue to insist on being free,” the NUJP said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez