June 20, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

MEDIA ATTACKS IN NUMBERS — Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Executive Director Melinda de Jesus outlined the state of media safety, including statistics on media attacks and threats in the recently concluded Philippine Media Safety Summit held in Quezon City.

Advances in technology have also increased the threats to journalists.

In the recently conclu-ded Philippine Media Safety Summit in Quezon City, participants underscored that alongside the advancement in technology is the increased threat on the safety of journalists and economic viability of media organizations.

Red-tagging, cyberlibel, libel, gender bias, unlawful surveillance, harassment, aggression, trolling, distrust, and unfair labor practices are some of the threats and challenges journalists face today.

PLAN OF ACTION — Center for Community Journalism and Development Executive Director Red Batario presented to the participants in the 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and plan to update it incorporating the inputs during the summit.

But even in the midst of this backdrop, the 160 participants in the summit composed of journalists, media workers, educators, and advocates for press freedom have agreed it is in these times where the role of journalists, as the Fourth Estate, become more crucial.

To address these threats, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Executive Director Melinda Quintos-de Jesus said media, government agencies, and even the public have to be reeducated about the role of media in a democracy.

She said crimes committed against journalists should not be dismissed as just another ordinary crime as investigation would show that these threats are valid because some people want to silence a critical media.

“Killing of journalists in the Philippines is due to the endemic violence in the Philippines,” de Jesus said, as she reported during the summit that from July 2022 to 2024, there have been 135 attacks, 75 cases of intimidation, 45 have been red-tagged, 19 reported to been under surveillance; eight have been charged of either libel or cyberlibel, and three killings from 2022 to 2023.

Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) president Jes Aznar said the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

Citing data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), there have been 117 journalists killed since 1994 with 81 cases still unresolved.  

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)-Baguio-Benguet chapter chair Frank Cimatu sees another threat to press freedom – that of journalists losing their interest to look for reports, relying instead on press releases and live feeds of press conferences.

“During the Covid-19 (lockdowns) we had no choice but to rely on government press releases because we had limited resources to move around. Ngayon nawala na ‘yung vigor natin. Nasanay na tayo sa Facebook Live,” Cimatu said in a press conference in Baguio arranged by Amnesty International on May 8.

The economic struggle of media outlets and journalists was also highlighted during the summit.

Zambales-based journalist Joanna Aglibot narrated that compared to employees in the newspaper where she contributes stories, she does not have the same benefits regular employees enjoy despite doing the same workload.

“My life as a local journalist is filled with uncertainty. I often have an empty pocket and although my profession is rewarding, I do not have the same advantage that regulars have. I do not have vacation or sick leaves and I only get paid if I reach my quota,” Aglibot said adding, “community journalists are more vulnerable to attacks because our area of coverage is also what we call home.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Julie Alipala also recalled that she did not have a hazard pay despite her constant exposure to wars and insurgency in Mindanao. She added she was first a correspondent for 15 years before she became a regular reporter of the PDI.

For visual journalist Bobby Lagsa, newsrooms have greatly contributed to the dwindling reliance on photojournalists.

“The race to post first on social media is affecting content. Para sa likes na lang. We have become beggars in the newsroom. They print our photos in exchange for credits. Kumikita ang newsroom pero kami walang bayad,” Lagsa said, adding media companies can help visual journalists by getting pictures from them, instead of from social media.

“Social media should not be a buffet for free images. Magkakaproblema pa kayo sa copyright. When you use free images, you contribute to killing the (photojournalism) industry,” Lagsa said.

CONVENORS — The 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit which bannered the theme “Surviving pandemics and other provocations by challenging current paradigms,” was organized by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Freedom for Media Freedom for All Coalition, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.

For the academe, University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication professor Diosa Labiste said media safety is now taught to students. She said young journalists are prepared about what to expect in the media industry.

Out of these discussions, the participants were able to draft a declaration calling for the protection and safety of journalists.

The declaration, along with the updated Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, will be presented in a post-summit nationwide roadshow.

The 1st Philippine Media Safety Summit, which carried the theme “Surviving pandemics and other provocations by challenging current paradigms,” was organized by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Focap, Freedom for Media Freedom for All Coalition, MindaNews, NUJP, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and the UP-CMC.

The event was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, United Nations Joint Programme, Unesco, Internews, USAID, International Media Support, AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, and San Miguel Corporation.