By Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Another Filipino journalist killed. Two days before World Press Freedom Day, broadcaster Edmund Semtosa former chairman of the Dumaguete City chapter of the National Union of Journalists, was gunned down in the same manner as scores of his fellow journalists. This was after his news and public affairs radio broadcast. Another statistic to the growing number of extrajudicial killings of journalists and advocates of human rights. That he died on the eve of WPFD, is seen as a reminder that much needs to be done in putting an end to the killing of media persons. This year also marked a low point in our ranking by Freedom House – from 127th to 133rd out of 180 countries.
In a pooled editorial by members of the Philippine Press Institute, threats to media freedom during the past two months of President Duterte’s presidency, a growing number of threats had been recorded. The number exceeds those perpetrated during the tenure of the past four presidents. These include the killing of 9 journalists, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attack, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.
The editorial continues: “The President, cabinet members, and House of Representatives have imposed and proposed restrictions on journalist access to official news event. Congress and executive agencies have denied or delayed the corporate registration on franchises required for operation of media companies.”
Let me add that any act that diminishes the capacity to access information or any form of limiting freedom of information weakens the capacity not only of media workers but everyone of us to express his views. It is a clear violation of the most basic right guaranteed by Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression is one of the most valued freedoms, and thus, by limiting our capacity to access information reduces our capacity to reach out, to respond to other people’s needs. It marks the beginning of man’s dehumanization.
This year’s WPFD theme highlights the importance of an enabling environment for press freedom, and gives due recognition to the role of an independent judiciary. As the UN Secretary-general noted, “A free press is essential for peace, justice, and human rights. It is crucial in building transparent and democratic societies and keeping those in power accountable. It is vital to sustainable development.”
World Press Freedom Day was established in 1976 by a group of independent journalists to provide and defend press freedom and covers 44 organizations from all over the world. It serves to remind governments of their duty to respect this right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What can we then expect from the Ghana Conference to observe the 25th anniversary of WPFD?
Nothing less than that governments would prioritize pending bills that are intended to create a freer and safer environment for all media and communication professionals and all of us who would eventually benefit from a free media. Here at home, it is passing the Freedom of Information act, the setting up of a public broadcasting or public communication system, and other bills that are intended to promote an environment conducive to freer flow of information. Such would include measures that would address fake news and restore trust and confidence in the communication system.
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